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Instead, in their memoirs they argued that Rommel was at best an adequate tactician and not a bad leader of small units, that he had been an adequate division commander, but his command of corps, army and army groups was often flawed. Of course, Rommel was no longer present to defend himself. His peripheral involvement in the July plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler had led the Gestapo to compel the field marshal to take his own life that October.
They can also provide insights into how German military leaders as a whole approached the strategic and operational problems of World War II and how well they understood the larger issues involved in the war. He had risen from the obscurity of a mere division command one among approximately to an army command with the rank of field marshal.
His leadership of the 7th Panzer Division during the blitzkrieg in France had contributed considerably to his rapid promotion through the command hierarchy. One recent German account of the invasion of France asserts that Rommel played an even more important role in the breakthrough on the Meuse — which led to the Allied collapse — than Heinz Guderian did. Fresh from the victory in France, in early the Oberkommando des Heeres OKH — Army High Command selected Rommel to command a small corps of German mobile and mechanized troops that was being sent to North Africa to prevent the collapse of the Italian position in Libya.
Under strict orders to remain on the defensive once he arrived, Rommel instead hit the ground running and began attacking the British even before his entire force had reached the desert. In a series of spectacular advances, he consistently disobeyed the instructions of not only his titular bosses in Rome, the Italian Comando Supremo, but also his superiors in Berlin, the OKH. His mission was to keep the British out of Libya and to restore the Italian position in North Africa. He more than accomplished this.
Along the way, he also took the fortress port of Tobruk. Some historians have criticized Rommel for not halting after his victory at Gazala so that German and Italian airborne and amphibious forces could assault Malta. However, given the performance of Italian forces up to that point in the war, Rommel had reason to be dubious about the success of such an operation — and he was probably correct.
Certainly Hitler agreed with him. Rommel sensed that he had the enemy on the run, and that this was the moment of opportunity that could lead to the fall of Egypt. Impressed with what he had accomplished thus far, Hitler promoted Rommel — who had been only a major general at the start of the war — to field marshal on June 22, But things were about to change.
In August the British finally discovered a field commander, Lt. Bernard Law Montgomery, who would fight the Eighth Army in accordance with its actual abilities. The Afrika Korps was brought to a halt, and by the end of September, Rommel was suffering from exhaustion and a bout of jaundice that finally forced him to return to Germany for treatment.
Not yet fully recovered, the Afrika Korps commander rushed back to the front, but by the time he arrived those in charge had already lost the battle. For the first time in North Africa, the Germans were up against a commander willing and able to take advantage of the overwhelming ground and air superiority the British possessed.
Rommel recognized that the Axis now faced a much different situation in North Africa, and he attempted to make the situation clear to Hitler and military leaders in Rome and Berlin. All he received in return were obdurate orders to hold fast. That he did, and as a result he came close to losing what was left of the Afrika Korps. Allied air and naval superiority, he told them, was such that German and Italian forces would inevitably go down to defeat.
By this point, he had a very clear idea of what the Anglo-American naval, air and logistical superiority meant for German military power. The result was a limited offensive in February that inflicted a significant, but not lasting, defeat on the Americans at Kasserine Pass. In a perverse sort of way, the drubbing the Americans received at Kasserine Pass may have been beneficial. Recovering much more quickly than the Eighth Army had from its setbacks, the Americans learned from the defeat.
Much of the transformation was driven by Maj. George S. Harold Alexander, regarded Kasserine Pass as proof that the U. Army was not a competent military force. They would hold to that judgment throughout the war. Rommel, on the other hand, did not make the same mistake. Instead, unlike Hitler and other German generals, he recognized how quickly the Americans had recovered from defeat and learned from it.
He also did not underestimate their capabilities. Rommel had not fully recovered from his exhaustion and jaundice when he returned to fight the second Battle of El Alamein. By now, four months of intense fighting as well as the pressures of the nonsensical orders issuing from the OKW Oberkommando der Wehrmacht — the Armed Forces High Command and Hitler had completely exhausted him. After a last, unsuccessful strike against Montgomery at Medenine on March 10, Rommel was evacuated and spent the next three months recuperating in Germany and Austria.
In spite of his disobedience at El Alamein, he was too valuable a figure for Hitler to put on the shelf. In the summer of he found himself in charge of a planning headquarters, Heeresgruppe B, tasked with preparing to defend the Mediterranean. Italy was now the focus of both German and Allied attention, as the government of incompetents in Rome attempted to bail out of the war at the earliest opportunity while still clinging to power.
The Germans, including Rommel, had no illusion that the new Italian government under the leadership of the decrepit Marshal Pietro Badoglio would remain in the war. In terms of the overall strategy for the defense of Italy, Rommel and Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, perhaps the most overrated German field commander of the war, were almost immediately at odds. Rommel urged the abandonment of all southern and central Italy and the defense of a line in the north — similar to where the Gothic Line would hold the Allies in the last half of His arguments reflected his recognition of the overwhelming superiority the Allies would enjoy in sea and air power.
Kesselring, always the optimist, believed the German army could defend south of Rome, and that the threat of Allied amphibious landings behind the lines was worth accepting. With the advantage of hindsight, Kesselring seems to have been right. Nevertheless, one should not forget that the Germans came close to losing their Tenth Army to the Allied ground offensive of May Only the egregious incompetence of Lt. Mark Clark, in his desire to lead American troops in liberating Rome, allowed the Germans to escape.
For Rommel the autumn of was frustrating indeed. In November , Hitler made the momentous decision that the Reich could no longer place the defense of northwestern Europe at the bottom of its priorities — a theater where the lowest-grade Wehrmacht formations served, and where badly battered units from the Eastern Front rested and refitted before returning to the east. Even the densest German military leader could now see that the Anglo-American powers would soon make a major attempt to return to the European continent, from which the British had been expelled in such humiliating fashion in June What he found was depressing indeed — a real Potemkin village.
The Germans had constructed a few fortifications along the Pas de Calais, where most German military leaders believed the Allies would land — a calculation that the Anglo-Americans delightedly confirmed through the means of a massive deception plan.
Rommel began his inspection on November 30, , in Denmark. He was to report his findings to Hitler, while keeping the overall commander in the West, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, informed of his progress. The weaknesses that Rommel found along the coast appalled him — especially the lack of preparedness in the immediate coastal areas.
In effect, German troops in the West had been on vacation — certainly in comparison to what was happening on the Eastern Front. Now that it was clear that he would assume command of the defense of northwestern Europe, Rommel had already developed his conception of how the Wehrmacht must conduct that defense.
The German general best known for his lightning-quick armored advances across the desert now concluded that he would have to prepare the strongest possible positional defense. The most immediate need was to energize the forces along the English Channel and quickly marshal the resources necessary to build an effective system of fortifications along the coastal regions. For the next six months, he spent much of his time and energy pushing everyone within his area of responsibility to build field fortifications and bunkers, lay barbed wire, dig trenches and emplace beach obstacles between the low and high tide limits.
Under his direction, the Germans also embarked on a massive program of mine laying. Not surprisingly, all this activity caught the attention of senior Allied commanders, further complicating the already difficult task of planning for and then making a successful amphibious landing on the coast of France. Unlike other senior army leaders, Rommel had had experience with the air power the Anglo-American powers would bring to the battlefield, as well as with their immense logistical capabilities.
For other German leaders, especially Hitler, American and British military capabilities simply did not appear nearly as threatening as they did to Rommel. To a considerable extent, the memories of British defeats in the desert in and and the American defeat at Kasserine Pass clouded German judgment. Nor had the Allied campaign in Sicily and southern Italy looked particularly impressive.
Yet Rommel understood that both the British and especially the American armies possessed steadily improving military capabilities. From early , Rommel argued that the Germans must defend against the coming invasion on the beaches. The result would be an inevitable defeat that would end whatever chance the Reich had to achieve a compromise peace. His immediate superior, the venerable Gerd von Rundstedt, supported a completely different approach to the defense of northwestern France.
The Rundstedt-Geyr von Schweppenburg operational solution basically posited that there was nothing they could do to prevent a successful Allied landing. The two generals argued that German forces in the West should concentrate available armored forces for a massive counterattack against the Allies once they were ashore. From their perspective, the panzer forces should be held back from the coast; then once the Allies had landed, the panzers would concentrate and move forward to counterattack.
German armor would also then be available to execute a mobile defense that would utilize superior Wehrmacht training, tactics and equipment. With the Luftwaffe deeply engaged in opposing the strategic bomber offensive over occupied Europe and in the East, it could do little to prevent swarms of Allied aircraft from destroying any large concentration of panzers the Germans were able to assemble.
It would also prevent any sort of mobile defense. Moreover, Rommel believed imposing heavier losses on the Allies would only serve to make them eager to impose a harsher peace on a defeated Germany. In the end, the Germans instituted neither defensive concept. They did not deploy their armored reserves close to the beaches — as Rommel had wished — or in a concentrated reserve as Rundstedt and Schweppenburg had advised. Instead, Hitler placed the panzer and Panzergrenadier divisions under the OKW; thus, only he could authorize their movement forward to meet the Allied invasion forces.
Once again, too little, too late. He truly believed that the battlefield was a sappy Lifetime movie, where the honor and determination of his soldiers would see them through to victory, even if the enemy was every bit as determined and had a lot more men and firepower to back it up with.
He was boasting this propagandic nonsense, even as the Russians were smashing Germany to pieces. He first made the call at Stalingrad, when he denied Frederich Paulus permission to fight his way out of a Soviet encirclement while the Russian lines were still relatively weak. Instead, he told him to stay put and, as a result, the entire 6th Panzer Army was lost, as well as all hope of a German victory.
He denied permission to his troops who wanted to fall back to and fortify the eastern bank of the Rhine River in , blow the bridges, and dare the western Allies to cross. And not too much later, at Berlin itself, Hitler screwed himself over directly, by forcing his men to hold a helpless line against the Russians along the Oder River, rather than pulling them back to tighten up the inner defenses of the city itself. When the Russians reached the city mere days later, there were only about 80, Germans left to defend it, half of which were civilians.
And that kind of sucked for Hitler, because there were 1. Well, that and potato vodka , but snow first and foremost. And that makes sense, since the Russian winter is notoriously violent and lasts much longer than the American one. Hitler could have used this information in June , when the invasion of Russia began. Did we mention Hitler was insane? Six months later, the Germans had made some incredible gains, but had by no means beaten the Red Army. But they were so close — the German was at the outskirts of Moscow, and some forward positions even reported seeing the towers of the Kremlin from their field glasses.
If Moscow fell, Russia would follow. The fate of the world hung in the balance. But then, the advance stopped. Old Man Winter. The Germans were inexcusably unprepared for the harsh cold of the Russian north — tanks froze in their tracks, men froze in their sleep, supply lines bogged down, and the whole mess came screeching to a four-month halt.
By Spring , when the Germans renewed their offensive, it was too late — the Russians had recovered just enough during the winter to hold them over for year, after which the tide turned and the Germans would never again regain the initiative in the east. All because the winter stopped them outside Moscow. The German army in WW2 was responsible for a whole pantheon of revolutionary breakthroughs like the assault rifle, jet aircraft, and yes, even ballistic missiles.
But how could he take something as incredible as ballistic missile tech, and piss it away? How can you not take advantage of the ability to rain unholy Hellfire down upon your enemies from a control tower a hundred miles to the east? Which is exactly what Hitler did. Oh, the sad, wasted potential.
Not listening to your generals is such a waste. And the thing is — Hitler did listen to his generals early on. France, for example, fell when Field Marshall Rundstedt brilliantly tore through the Ardennes forest and circled around the Maginot line. A lot of people attribute that move to Hitler, when in fact, it was his commanders. Keep in mind that he was not a military strategist, so his micromanaging helped exactly no one.
Such as protecting Normandy — General Erwin Rommel suggested that the Allies would strike at Normandy and not Calais and, when it happened, he wanted to move his troops north to counter the attack. Hitler refused, because he moronically thought the real attack was still coming, even though hundreds of thousands of Allied troops were pouring ashore. By the time he finally listened to the generals that he hired , it was too late.
France was lost. Goering, like Hitler, had exactly zero commanding experience. So, when the time came and Hitler ordered him to bring England to its knees from the skies, Goering royally screwed up literally every chance they had. He switched targets too frequently, rather than concentrating on a single village or radar station until it was destroyed.
This allowed the British to repair nearly all the damage the Luftwaffe did manage to do, before it become catastrophic. As a result, England beat the tar out of the Germans, and stayed in the war. And that brings us to the next point…. One of the things that did Germany in in the first World War was it being a two-front war, which was a scenario Hitler intended to avoid at all costs.
Unfortunately, he wanted to invade Russia a whole lot more. We just talked about the Battle of Britain, which was a fight Hitler started in an attempt to bring England the last of the Western Allies to its knees so he could concentrate on his primary goal — Russia. But then England actually won the battle. What Hitler should have done was to learn from the mistakes that were made, press the attack under improved leadership, and maybe even do what he hated and train the Luftwaffe to attack the RAF so he could get a land invasion going.
He should have persevered until England was out of the fight completely. In other words — Hitler had a legitimate two-front war, and it did Germany in. When Japan attacked the United States in December , Hitler followed through on his Tripartite agreement, and declared war on America as well. This was an idiotic move. Actually, you kind of can. It still had tremendous industrial strength, and a gigantic resource pool to fuel it. Hitler, above all others, should have seen it coming when the Americans entered the war, and soon drowned their enemies in a sea of seemingly endless men and materials.
Their original destination was the Caucasus oil fields to the south of mainland Russia. Hitler decided to knock two birds out with one stone: divert a large chunk of Army Group South to capture Stalingrad, and have everyone home by Christmas. Unfortunately, and this seems to be a theme with Hitler, his target did not give in to defeat as quickly or as easily as he thought it would.
The Russian 69th army took tremendous casualties in the battle, but they held their ground and would not surrender the city. But rather than pulling his men back to capture the far more important Caucasus region, with plans to return to the city once they were re-strengthened, Hitler actually stripped troops already in the Caucasus away from their positions and sent them to Stalingrad.
Look at Dan Quayle. Political power is not always a result of genius. If Generals, like Manstein and Guderian, had been unimpeded in prosecuting the war, the world today would be much different. Thankfully, Hitler was a blundering Maniac. Difference is, Stalin could afford to lose more and he was also the more flexible of the two. Competent Generals were constantly overruled or ignored Manstein and Guderian, for example.
Failure to open a second front, by having the Japanese invade through Manchuria, meant Soviet commanders could concentrate forces fighting the Germans. He just was a very crazy guy with too much power and because of his poor intelligence he screwed almost all the time. He mentions the brilliant Rundstedt,when it was in fact Manstein. It was he pushed for the offensive to be put back,as it was to close to winter. The plan came originally from Hitler. Not sure what a maroon is,a colour maybe.
I dont think Hitler was stupid he was just filled with destructive forces over which he had no control of and these in the end affected the Germans themselves ven more then even the jews. Adolf Hitler was not an idiot.
He was a smart man that used his intelligence, knowledge, wisdom and understanding to do evil things. He was an evil genius… The real idiots are those who think that people like Adolf Hitler and others like Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong are idiots. These people are monsters, murderous killing machines, you morons! Destroyers of worlds!! And yet you dumb asses still think they are the idiots!!!
Not me, I think they are evil geniuses!!!! But this belief must be tempered by the facts. After the Eastern Front fell to the Soviets, high-ranking German generals and officers realised Hitler was prepared to slaughter complete armies, leading to the decision that Hitler must be assassinated to save Germany. Thanks to David Clark for writing this fascinating list. Personally, I think every student of history should study the differences between a professional soldier like Rommel, and a dangerous meglomaniac like Hitler.
Rommel refused to commit war crimes in the way the SS did. This eventually cost him his life. It was a branch of the SS that ran the extermination camps. Rommel was never part of this. We can thank our lucky stars, Hitler was too arrogant to listen carefully to soldiers as gifted as Rommel. If he had, the Allied forces may have made fewer gains during WW2.
In fact, the Allies tried to assassinate Rommel twice without success. Good list. Clueless Clive. Triparite treaty in affect only in cases where member was attacked so Germany was no bound to declare war on US after Pearl Harbor. I really enjoyed reading this. The reason I started doing so was because like a lot of people, it dumbfounds me not so much how people like this can gain control but how they gain such wide support.
When you get right into it, Hitler was a complete failure at almost everything he ever did. The Nazi leaders he surrounded himself with were of a similar calibre, all of them failures and bullies with a very warped sense of reality. Am I any closer to understanding how they gained such tremendous support?
They contain no reason nor sanity and more than a hint of propaganda and pure evil. Yet thunderous, fanatical applause abounds all the same. Very impressive and informative list David Clark. To Jon, nice perspective and all the best for your further studies. Hitler was an idiot through and through, and even politically so, as it hardly took intelligence to become the demagogue that the German masses were so obviously aching for — just someone who was sick enough to exploit the situation.
Besides, he was heavily supported by that other confused moron, Goebbels, who had to attend no less than five different universities just to obtain a humanities degree, allowing the worst of philosophy to rot his brain along the way. Hitler as we all know was one of the most ruthless people who ever lived. Hitler hated failure, and he still kept that fat idiot around?
The Russia one is good. Never invade Russia in the winter….. Still loony toon nut cases, but nazi parade rally beats anything Russian choreographically speaking any day of the week. It is only a hipotetical question if Wermacht would be as efficient if were allowed to retreat. If Hitler was such an idiot, then why are there endless programmes, and books wrote about him? Why not make programmes about Stalin and King John instead? Hitler is crazy not an idiot.
He is evil but you have to give it to him he is smart and saved his country from France and England from taxes at that time.