The first in a series of articles about German General Erwin Rommel
My Normandy Journey to La Roche-Guyon Rommel’s Normandy Headquarters
The Allied invasion of France on June 6, 1944 holds an endless attraction for me. For many years I have made my pilgrimages to Normandy in search of a greater understanding of the questions and curiosities that follow me. Each year I visit and research in Normandy and I sometimes find answers, but more often than not I discover more questions. One of my visits began in a remarkable world of beauty and splendor, a world far removed from the ending of my journey at the sandy shores of Omaha Beach in Normandy. In between those places I took some time to chase a legend, German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.
German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was a very conflicted man in the spring of 1944. Rommel was personally chosen by Hitler to defend his crumbling empire from the expected invasion of the Allied Powers. As he prepared to defend Hitler’s Atlantic Wall, Rommel had been informed as to the true nature of the horrors Hitler and his Nazis had unleashed on the world. In his Normandy headquarters, Rommel would learn from trusted fellow soldiers what had happened in Europe while he was fighting in North Africa. Rommel was drawn deeply into the plot to overthrow Hitler and his criminal regime. A choice that would exact the ultimate price from the politically naive Field Marshal, whose fame in Germany was second only to Adolph Hitler.
But before I would enter that world, I was momentarily drawn to a most beautiful place that is on the road from Paris to Rommel’s Normandy headquarters. I made a brief stop at the home of the Impressionist master Claude Monet in the French countryside in the tiny village of Giverny.
I left the Paris airport in the rain that morning. The traffic was heavy leaving the city, it always is it seems. As I left Paris in my rear view mirror, I began my scenic drive along the hills and the banks of the River Seine. I was on my way to a rendezvous, planned and eagerly awaited for a long time. But first I had to stop to experience a different kind of history, a world of profuse colors and creations, a harmony between man and nature: the famous gardens, house and lily pond at Giverny, the once country home of the impressionist master Claude Monet.
The light rain stopped falling as I walked the beautiful gardens of Monet’s country home. The gardens were full of colors and foliage that defy the observer to label and are as Monet seemingly left them. His beautiful country home appears to be waiting for its master’s return, locked into a space where time stands still. The vivid blues and yellows remain a trademark of Monet’s kitchen and dining area. The table set as if ready to receive a delicious French lunch, hosted by the great master. The Lily Pond and Japanese Bridge across the street from his home recreate the enduring images I have admired in museums around the world. One tries to see what he saw, as the colors and fabrics of nature impose themselves in a place he created and captured so well in some of his Impressionist masterpieces. This is a world that holds and nourishes your soul. A place so different than those in France I have traveled so far and so long to see. The contrast between Monet’s world of beauty and creation and Rommel’s world of death and devastation was not lost on the moment or this visitor.
As I drove the short distance to the Normandy headquarters of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, Monet’s Giverny home was fading into a colorful fragrant memory. Leaving the world of the great Impressionist master behind me, I was filled with excitement as I approached La Roche-Guyon the site of Rommel’s Headquarters.
The drive along the Seine River area of Vernon was perfect French country scenery. The old, winding, and hilly roads seem to be out of a guidebook of France. I slowed down to appreciate these stunning vistas. I am almost there; I lament so scenic a journey will end.
Slowly, I am descending into what was the most occupied village of all German occupied France. I am entering the village of La Roche-Guyon, a quintessential old world place nestled beside the River Seine. It is as beautiful and charming as it is historic and is often described as the Gateway to Normandy.
There is only one road into the small fortress town, and it is dominated by the huge stone tower sitting atop a chalk white limestone cliff. It is all that remains of the original 12th century castle. The Germans installed ant-aircraft guns on top of the hill with its commanding views. Beneath the crumbling tower from antiquity is the imposing more modern day stone castle. It is massive and built beside the hillside. At first look it appears to be holding the hillside in place. Across the road from the Castle is one of France’s most famous gardens. There along the Seine is beautiful greenery even in late September. Monet himself was inspired by the beauty of the castle, river and gardens and painted landscapes of the area. But it is he who lived here in 1944 that draws me to this idyllic place.
In this sprawling stone castle, Field Marshal Rommel made his Army Group B headquarters in February of 1944. I am nearly 70 years behind Rommel’s occupation of the famous Castle of La Roche-Guyon. It is here that Churchill would try to assassinate Rommel for a second time, first trying to kill him in the North African desert in 1941. Churchill hoped he could assassinate Rommel, finally putting to rest British fears and failures.
From the castle, Erwin Rommel will fight two battles. He tried to defend Hitler’s shrinking Third Reich, while he also ironically, worked to end Hitler’s tyrannical rein. Each task, remarkably difficult by itself, Rommel would have to choose one in a most deadly game. The cost each exacted was extreme, as one took away his health and the other killed him.
I walk through the large doors to the massive stone stair case, leading upstairs to where the family lived in 1944. I am on the first floor, the level Rommel occupied. He did not station troops in the castle, only his closest staff and orderly. Most of the business of Rommel’s Army Group B was conducted across the stone courtyard in a large building. I am standing in the castle, on the first floor looking into a large ballroom sized salon. It was in the salon that he met not only German officers fighting for Hitler, but Germans fighting against Hitler.
In this large room that was Rommel’s office, I think of the contrasts not only in the visitors but how the room was mostly barren when Rommel was there. Dominated by a large table, some of the valuables were removed and hidden from the destructive air raids of France in 1944. Rommel had no photos, or any personal items displayed, nothing to remind the visitors he was the temporary occupant of this place.
I think of author David Fraser’s book Knight’s Cross: A Life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, and how he truthfully recollects the resistance against Hitler in 1944, which Rommel was involved. Fraser labels the conspirators as, “[men of] extraordinary moral and physical courage.” And informs the reader that they were also seen as, “[men of] near-unbelievable treachery. [Their] Motives were mixed and varied with [each] conspirator” These gathered men would risk everything as they learned the terrible truth of Hitler and his Nazis. Here in this room, Rommel had to question all he knew about himself and his involvement in Hitler’s war of annihilation. Fraser reminds us that most of the conspirators, “…only acted tardily and when it was obvious Germany would lose the war.” Looking around I give pause to Rommel, wondering about his ascension to such a lofty position in the Germany Army. He was after all a benefactor of Hitler’s Nazi criminal regime in Germany. (Fraser, Knight’s Cross pages 480-481)
As I turn to leave, I think of another story about Rommel and this room. A brief conversation that may have cost Rommel his life. In May just a few weeks before the D-Day invasion, captured British Commando Lieutenant George Lane was brought into this room; the room I am standing in. Lane’s recollections of the Field Marshal included a description of him as being: congenial, friendly, not intimidating, not arrogant but courteous. When Lane entered the room, Rommel rose and greeted the British soldier with a hand shake. Rommel ordered tea and they sat down and spoke. Using an interpreter, Rommel questioned the commando whose responses were as one would expect, useless to Rommel. As the meeting broke up, Rommel told Lane he would be safe from Hitler’s 1942 order, that all commandos found behind German lines be summarily executed. True to his word, Lane was safe and held as a prisoner of war in France. Ultimately Lane got word to the French Resistance that he thought he knew where Rommel’s Headquarters was located in Normandy. By the time the message was authenticated and delivered to Britain, it was mid-July. And just a few days later, Rommel’s staff car was attacked by Royal Airforce fighter planes, nearly killing Rommel and forcing his evacuation to Germany. (Dear, 10 Commando, Pages 134-137)
Walking back outside, I recall that La Roche-Guyon was described as, “ [a place] Personalities…arrived almost every day to express themselves freely in the oasis of Rommel’s head quarter’s far away from the claws of the Gestapo”1 It was at the castle in May of 1944, German writer Ernst Junger visited Rommel. At their meeting Junger presented Rommel with an explanation of peace for Europe and Germany. Rommel also met with the German Army members who were planning Hitler’s over-through in 1944. And it was here that Rommel wrote his famous Memorandum of July 15, informing Hitler that it was time to end the war - and begin the peace. Rommel wrote, “The situation on the Normandy front [is]… approaching… a major crisis…the enemy’s bringing to bear of an overwhelming superiority…it must be assumed that the enemy [will be] breaking through our own thin front…The consequences will be incalculable…the unequal contest is drawing to an end… I must ask you to draw the consequences from this situation without delay…” 2 The consequences Rommel sought was peace without delay.
Privately Rommel had told his staff and commanders that if Hitler failed to find peace with the Allies he was prepared to draw his forces out of Normandy and closer to Germany. For Rommel, the war was ending. Yet, before there could be peace there would be the unthinkable for a German Field Marshal - treason.
Stopping outside the house, I walk through the rose garden, once a place where he found some peace. It was here he would walk and privately talk to confidants like German Admiral Friedrich Ruge. Like Rommel Admiral Ruge was a veteran of both world wars and was highly decorated for his bravery. Ruge was assigned to Rommel’s Normandy staff in November of 1943, and he became very close to Rommel as together they surveyed Hitler’s Atlantic Wall, traversing the North western coast of Europe.
They forged their bond as men who had served their country in times of great national peril, and they further strengthened their bonds by learning the truth about Hitler and the atrocities committed in the name of the German people. They were professional soldiers who learned Hitler and his political henchman were mass murderers, determined to destroy Germany and as much of mankind as they could.
Ruge unlike Rommel would survive the war, and go on to help establish a new modern day German Navy. He became a writer and a professor. It is from his work, Rommel In Normandy that we learn much of what was going in Rommel’s Normandy world of 1944.
Slowly walking along the rose garden I try to imagine the information Rommel was processing. Fighting for and against a tyrant at the very same time. A man he once admired and now secretly despised and feared. He had learned his fourteen year old son, Manfred had been drafted into the German home forces, the Volkstrum as an anti-aircraft gunner. And his wife had recently moved out of the city and far into the country to escape relentless Allied bombings of German cities.
Here in this Normandy castle, the man some called Germany’s last knight, the apolitical German military hero came face to face with all of the horrors of Hitler’s war. War was no longer fought in distant places like the deserts of Africa. War was coming to Rommel’s home. And with that realization, he learned of the genocidal actions of a man he once believed would save Germany, but was now destined to destroy it. Rommel’s world was collapsing all around him. He was fighting for and against Hitler at the same time, an impossible and unenviable task. Only one of those two worlds could survive in the same person. Fate, would help decide the outcome.
Walking into the horse stables, I feel the chill in the damp stone structure and put on my 101st Airborne Division sweatshirt, the one I always wear in Normandy. I think back to the familiar history of Rommel’s end in here. On July 17, 1944 Rommel was returning from a day which again saw his Normandy world being torn apart by the relentless advance of the Allied Armies. On a French country road at Sainte-Foy-de-Montgomery, while driving back to his castle headquarters, he was seriously wounded. British planes strafed his car killing some of his staff and nearly killing him. Rommel had just left one of his panzer commanders, a man whose loyalty to Hitler was very well known. Rommel had informed SS Panzer General Sepp Dietrich that he decided to seek a peace with the Allies. He told Dietrich that he had sent Hitler an ultimatum to seek peace in the west with the Allies [Memorandum of July 15, see footnote 2]. It then occurred to me I was standing where he would never again return.
Rommel sent his memorandum to his superior officer in Normandy, Field Marshal Gunther von Kluge. But Kluge never sent it to Hitler. Kluge was aware of the military resistance to Hitler in Rommel’s Army Group B staff, but never had the courage to forward Rommel’s ultimatum. He committed suicide in France in August of 1944, fearing the Gestapo was going to arrest or kill him for his knowledge of the treason in Army Group B.
Walking out of the stable, I encounter workers. They are oblivious to me as I walk down the long stone driveway. I find myself thinking about Rommel’s life after Normandy. Rommel went home to his wife and son in Germany. While still slowly recovering, Rommel received two generals sent to see him by Hitler. Generals Maisel and Burgdorf went to Rommel’s home on October 14, 1944. They also had his house quietly surrounded by Gestapo forces. Destiny and Hitler’s vengeance caught up with Germany’s most famous general.
Rommel was offered a choice of trial and execution for treason or, he could take poison and kill himself. Rommel demanded the latter come with the caveat that his family and his staff in Normandy would be spared retribution for his involvement in the attempt on the life of Adolph Hitler. Hitler’s hit men did what Churchill’s armies and his two assassination attempts could not. Rommel took the poison and his life ended.
As my walk nearly ends, I think of what Churchill had said about Erwin Rommel in January of 1942. Churchill spoke before the House of Commons and tried to explain General Rommel’s success in fighting the British in North Africa. Churchill declared, “We have a very daring and skillful opponent, and may I say across the havoc of war, a great general”.4 In the North African Desert Rommel became the Desert Fox and joined military legend. There, he seemed to hold not only Churchill’s attention but the attention of the world. He was daring, resourceful, courageous, and chivalrous. He frustrated the British like no other opponent since George Washington. He seemed to dominate the British war strategy and operations from February of 1941, until he left North Africa in March of 1943. No other German general had such an influence over Churchill and his generals as did Rommel.
And Rommel followed Churchill after the war as well. Even in death Rommel was never far from Churchill’s mind. With the war ended and his life in politics temporarily at an end, Churchill engaged in one of his favorite past times - writing. He made it a point to defend what he said in 1942, before the House of Commons. In 1950 upon reflection, Churchill wrote Rommel’s epitaph in, Volume III of his work, The Second World War:
“His ardour and daring inflicted grievous disasters upon us, but he deserves the salute which I made him… in the House of Commons in January, 1942. ... He also deserves our respect because, although a loyal German soldier, he came to hate Hitler and all his works, and took part in the conspiracy of 1944 to rescue Germany by displacing the maniac and tyrant. For this he paid the forfeit of his life. In the sombre wars of modern democracy chivalry finds no place.” 3
But, Rommel’s chivalry does hold a place. Author Steven Pressfield in his book Killing Rommel, captures Rommel’s prosecution of the war. Pressfield wrote, “Self-restraint, even chivalry... distinguished the combatants on both sides throughout the North Africa campaign... The leading exemplar of this code was Rommel… [Rommel called his campaign] war without hate…fierce and brutal as much of the fighting was… [it] retained a quality of forbearance that seems, today, almost impossible to imagine.”5
At La Roche Guyon I finished my walk down the driveway towards the road. I pass through the massive iron gates that now appear to be permanently open, danger no longer lives here. I walk through the old stone town and try to visualize the numerous sentry posts and machine gun positions. The residents likened living here to being in a prison, unable to move about, and often pressed into obligatory work details by their German masters. “…for each of the five hundred and forty three inhabitants of the village… there were three German soldiers.6 According to resident, Paulette Lamiral’s recollections, “There was no swastika flag on the buildings… the [soldiers] only saluted each other in the normal military way. They didn’t give the Hitler salute…”7
It was here at La Roche-Guyon, that war came home to Erwin Rommel. In 1944 war was no longer relegated to other continents, war had come to his home, now it was close and very personal. Suddenly, the warrior wanted to fight for peace, not willing to sacrifice his family and homeland. Redemption, perhaps, but the man who fought in two world wars, on two different continents, in deserts, on mountains, and beaches had had enough killing. He had fought for his country, believing himself a patriotic German, fighting to right the wrongs inflicted upon Germany by the punitive Treaty of Versailles and its French and British authors. And so he followed Hitler into war, not understanding the war Hitler would wage, as he ravaged a continent, committed genocide, mass murder, and threatened the world.
My next stop is the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach. Driving away from this village I think of the men who died on Bloody Omaha Beach, and remind myself that Erwin Rommel was responsible for many of those deaths. I have been to Omaha Beach and the cemetery there many times before and always have trouble reconciling such a place. Being in Rommel’s headquarters is the other half of the book ends. La Roche-Guyon and Rommel at one end of the titanic Normandy struggle, and the dead of Omaha Beach at the other. Driving away locked into my own silence, the appeal of the scenery is no longer endearing, and it fades as does my vistas of the river and village.
Leaving Rommel’s headquarters, I hear my own adage, one I developed from many years of studying history: The conquered become the conquerors, and the oppressed become the oppressors. Rommel is the stuff of enviable military legend and myth. And he is also tragic, a man suffering from a self-inflicted destiny. He will always be remembered as a man driven by his duty to history’s most heinous genocidal regime.
There is a post script, an epilogue to this essay after the references. Please scroll down and read this important piece, in response to a poorly written magazine article about General Erwin Rommel.
Amelia McNutt, Director
Normandy Research Foundation
1. Delahaye, Thierry & Quenneville, Alain. Rommel A La Roche-Guyon. Acheve d’imprimer par Corlet. Conde-sur-Noireau, France. 1995. Print. Page 27.
2. Stackelberg, Roderrick & Winkle, Sally A. The Nazi German Sourcebook: An Anthology of Texts. Routledge: New York, 2002, Print. PP. 310-311
3. Churchill, Winston. The Grand Alliance. The Second World War, Vol. III. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 1950. P 177
5. Pressfield, Steven. Killing Rommel. Doubleday: New York. 2009 Print. P 6.
6. Delahaye, et al. Rommel A La Roche-Guyon. Page 24.
7. Ibid, Page 26.
Churchill, Winston. The Grand Alliance. The Second World War, Vol. III. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 1950. Print.
Dear, Ian. 10 Commando. Pen & Sword: South Yorkshire. 1989. Print
Delahaye, Thierry & Quenneville, Alain. Rommel A La Roche-Guyon. Acheve d’imprimer par Corlet. Conde-sur-Noireau, France. 1995. Print.
Fraser, David. Knight’s Cross: A Life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. New York:
Harper Collins. 1993. Print.
Manchester, William, and Paul Reid. The Last Lion, Winston Spencer Churchill. Boston: Little, Brown, 1983. Print.
Mitcham, Samuel W. The Desert Fox In Normandy: Rommel’s defense of Fortress
Europe. Westport, CT: Praeger. 1997. Print.
Pressfield, Steven. Killing Rommel. Doubleday: New York. 2009. Print.
Reid Walter. Churchill 1940-1945: Under Friendly Fire. London: Birlinn Ltd., 2009. Print
Ruge, Friedrich. Rommel in Normandy. London: Presidio Press. 1979. Print
Stackelberg, Roderick & Winkle, Sally A. The Nazi German Sourcebook: An Anthology of Texts. Routledge: New York, 2002. Print.
Speidel, Hans. Invasion 1944. Westport CT: Greenwood Press. 1971. Print
Young, Desmond. Rommel. London: Collins, 1950. Print.
Meissner, Daniel J. ”Fortress Europa": The Atlantic Wall on D-Day
Retrieved December 27, 2015.
Epilogue, March 28, 2016
What follows is a response to the article, Was Rommel A Fraud?
Published in Military History Magazine, January 2016, Vol. 32 No. 5
On the cover of the January 2016 issue of Military History magazine, one finds an odd, unflattering photograph of German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. The photo is half black and white, as it was originally created, and the other half is overcast by an unflattering red shadowing. The head line covering part of Rommel’s left side reads, Was Rommel A Fraud? This question is followed by a cursory by-line. The more than subliminal conclusion drawn by the author and editors seemed unmistakable, that one of World War II’s most famous soldiers, was a fraud. They had gained my attention.
First, I sought the artist responsible for the cover photo. The credit was given to Otto, who used a file photo from the Bundesarchiv, the post war German army archives. It was an editorial work at best. Unworthy of a serious magazine cover, it is a reminder of a 1970’s National Lampoon cover.
Next, I leafed through the pages hoping to find the centerpiece article. But first I found an advertisement for the other magazines published by HistoryNet, the publisher of Military History Magazine. One of the many covers advertised featured Joseph Stalin, one of history’s most notorious mass murders. An unparalleled killer of his own Russian people. Seems Otto had not gotten an opportunity to use his editorial talents on that cover. The Other covers were as they should be, an accurate and honorable image portraying the sacrifice made by soldiers in the name of their countries.
Before long I found the article, Rethinking Rommel, by David T. Zabecki. Mr. Zabecki’s thesis was, “…undoubtedly a superior tactical commander, his [Rommel’s] skills didn’t carry over into the strategic realm of operations.”1
I next questioned what I believed to be the definition of strategic, which I found in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. “Strategic: related to a general plan that is created to achieve a goal in war…over a long period of time… designed or trained to strike an enemy at the sources of its military, economic, or political power.”2 Did Erwin Rommel participate in a general plan, created to achieve a goal in war, over a long period of time, to strike an enemy at the sources of its military, economic of political strengths? Yes.
In February of 1941, General Erwin Rommel was sent to North Africa to help Germany’s hapless and nearly defeated ally Italy. He would first fight the British and then the United States in North Africa. Dominating much of the strategic and operational planning of the Allies on land, sea and in the air, until his defeat in March of 1943. The war in Europe lasted from September of 1939 to May of 1945 that is 68 months. Rommel kept large parts of the British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air force occupied for 26 months. That represents nearly 40% of the entire length of the European war. Longer than the ground war was fought in Italy, France or Germany. That is a long time.
Rommel’s orders were to aid his Italian Allies and operate under their command. He chose to aid them by attacking the British and twice forced them across the greater part of the North African desert, endangering both the strategic Suez Canal, a British life line to the Asian theater of war, and the economic and strategic British oil assets in the Middle East. In 1942 Rommel captured the strategically important port of Tobruk, which Churchill, Britain’s political and war time leader, called a low point in the war. The British also planned and began the evacuation of their prized colonial possession, Egypt. The strategic objectives of a port, canal, oil supplies, and colony which Rommel was threating in June of 1942 fit the description of striking an enemy at the sources of its military, economic, or political power.
Mr. Zabecki accurately claims that Rommel outran his supply lines. He fails to remind the reader that the Italians were responsible for getting Rommel his supplies and materials. And, that both Hitler and Goring promised Rommel that his needed supplies would arrive, thereby encouraging the Field Marshal to continue his rampage across North Africa. When the promises of his commanders and allies failed to materialize, Rommel did the unexpected by capturing the supplies and materials of his enemies. This was best evidenced in Rommel’s capture of Tobruk which delivered to the Germans enormous operational and tactical British assets that could be used to effect Rommel and Germany’s strategic efforts.
Described in, World War II in Europe an Encyclopedia, of which David Zabecki is credited as the editor, “The Axis [forces under Rommel’s command] captured, two and a half million gallons of [petrol] and about 5,000 tons of general supplies, and 2,000 wheeled vehicles…”3 Fuel, supplies and transport vehicles that would aid Rommel’s operational, tactical advance across North Africa, directly challenging the strategicly vital Suez and beyond to the oil fields of the Middle East, and on to the area of Southern Russia.
In thinking General Rommel I am reminded of the strategic, operational and tactical efforts employed by the British military to stop him in North Africa. No weapon was more important to the British war effort and its leader, Winston Churchill than the top secret code breaking at Bletchley Park. It is remembered as Ultra, because it was to Churchill ultra-top secret. And it was the use of Ultra that stopped Rommel’s supplies, and eventually forced the defeat of the Africa Korps in the Western Desert campaign. The use of Ultra was a strategic risk that Churchill had to take to defeat Rommel, a risk not applied to any other specific German General on the ground in World War II. Stopping Rommel in North Africa was essential to the British war winning strategy.
In his recently declassified work for the NSA, The Historical Impact of Revealing The Ultra Secret, Dr. Harold C. Deutsch explains the impact Ultra had in defeating Rommel.
“No other commander over so prolonged a period was affected so outrageously by the ability of his opponents to look into his cards...The list of occasions on which his triumphs were diminished and his disasters made worse is a staggering one… specific blows of fortune was the systematic strangulation of his services of supply… the British knew their schedules and the routes they were to follow. The sum of Ultra's influence on the war in North Africa permits the query whether it was not the decisive ingredient of British and later Anglo-American victory in the Mediterranean. Without it, the time and extent of that triumph would at any rate have been inconceivable.”4
The last sentence questions the credit for overwhelmingly strategic victory in North Africa. Time, and victory itself have no other equal strategic, or operational components. To be victorious you must win the battle, and keep time to your advantage. The ending, or shortening of conflict is the political, strategic, economic, and operational goal of all war.
Dr. Deutsch continues, and challenges us to think the events of the North African Campaign, and by extension we must think Rommel,
“Declassification and release of archival material on Ultra is almost certain to be gradual and somewhat sporadic. This will challenge the historian to constant reassessment of Ultra's role, both generally and in specific phases and situations of World War II… reputations of military leaders will be enhanced or diminished… the historical appraisal of German commanders should move upward with each ascent of the curve, and that of their Allied rivals should decline in proportion…No one foresaw this with more jealousy than Bernard Montgomery,[credited with defeating Rommel] who resented having to share-even with Churchill-knowledge of the support Ultra afforded him.[in North Africa]4
Montgomery’s support was the use of Ultra: strategically, operationally and tactically. Without the use of such an asset, victory was certainly in doubt. Rommel had his strategic goals, which were supported by his superiors, specifically German leader Adolph Hitler. And it took risking one of Britain’s most important strategic assets to stop him in North Africa.
Lastly, Mr. Zabecki references other notable German generals of the war. Amongst them is Eric von Manstein, the brilliant author of the plan that defeated the French and British in 1940. A brilliant strategist, Manstein later fought on the Eastern Front and was found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to life in prison after the war. He also refused to aid the military resistance against Hitler.
He also references, Walther Model who eventually was in command after Rommel was wounded and evacuated from Normandy. The Allies never broke through Rommel’s defenses in Normandy; it was a stalemate that worried the Americans and the British, endangering the outcome of the landings at Normandy. Rommel’s brilliant defense kept the Allies from achieving their most important strategic goals in the summer of 1944. The breakthrough does take place and the German response, a retreat, is ultimately commanded by Model. Later in the war Model killed himself as not to be captured, and prosecuted as a war criminal for his actions on the eastern Front. Like Manstein he offered no help to the military resistance against Hitler.
Rommel was never charged with war crimes. Neither was anyone under his direct command. He was, unlike all the other German Field Marshals, the only one that challenged Hitler’s prosecution of the war. In July of 1944, Rommel wrote his famous, Memorandum of July 15, urging Hitler to draw the forgone conclusion the war was lost. Rommel was wounded, and the memorandum which Rommel sent to his superior officer was never sent to Hitler. Later Rommel was ordered murdered by the man and regime he served. His crime was treason against Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Government.
Looking at Rommel, I see the life of a brilliant General who occupied his enemies strategic, tactical, and operational levels of warfare, while achieving some of his own strategic goals. That is concurrently mixed with his service to one of history’s most heinous regimes. Erwin Rommel is best described in the same way General Grant wrote of another brilliant but flawed General, Robert E. Lee. Grant Labeled Lee’s cause, “… one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there is the least excuse.”5
Rethinking Rommel should have begun by a critical and logical examination of this soldiers accomplishments. This was an editorial lacking proper critical thinking skills. Try again, and try Thinking Rommel while leaving your agenda and the editor’s agenda out of the examination.
Please remember to join us in the coming weeks as we will present Part II and Part III of Chasing Rommel. In the future we will bring you - Chasing Rommel Part II: Churchill’s D-Day Ghosts, and Chasing Rommel Part III: Rommel’s Defense of Normandy.
Thanks You for taking the time to visit us and read the stories. We are driven by our deep appreciation, admiration, and respect of our veterans.
“Learn The Stories – Don’t Let Their Glory Fade”
Director and Founder
Normandy Research Foundation
Zabecki, David T. Rethinking Rommel. Military History, January 2016, Vol. 32, No. 5 Page 24
Merriam-Webster Dictionary On-Line
Retrieved, March 27, 2016
Zabecki, David T. World War II in Europe: an Encyclopedia. Routledge: New York. 1999. Print. P-1715.
Deutsch, Harold, C. The Historical Impact of Revealing The Ultra Secret. Approved for Release by NSA on 10-26-2006, FOIA Case # 51639. DOCID: 3827029 - UNCLASSIFIED. Reprinted, with permission from Parameters Journal of the U.S. Army War College https://www.nsa.gov/public_info/_files/cryptologic_spectrum/ultra_secret.pdf Retrieved March 29, 2016. Page 29.
Grant, Ulysses, S. Personal Memoirs (A modern library e-book). Random House: New York 1999. P.580 https://books.google.com/books?isbn=0679641491 retrieved March 27, 2016.