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German Afrika Korps

In January 1941, the situation for the Axis countries in North Africa was critical. Italian troops stationed at Cairo were driven back to Tripoli in Libya. This was the last line, and on February 6, 1941 Erwin Rommel received command of the German Expeditionary Corps, consisting of 2 understaffed tank divisions. On February 9, 1941, 3 days before departure, Rommel received the rank of Generalleutnant.


Upon arriving in Libya, Rommel staged a military parade in which his tanks rolled in a circle so that British intelligence thought Rommel had fully manned divisions. Rommel was energetic, cheerful and optimistic about the future.

Tank parade in Tripoli, Libya in 1941


Since tanks were sorely lacking, and the forces of the Alliance were three times larger, Rommel set up production of the famous "Rommel's tanks". They were made from tarpaulins, and models were installed on army vehicles. Every night they were transported from place to place, blocking all tank-hazardous directions. The trick succeeded and very soon the British intelligence and the press started talking about at least 500 tanks and several German tank divisions in Tripoli. This brought Rommel "Oak Leaves" to the "Knight's Cross". Thanks to this trick, Rommel was able to inflict a crushing defeat on the Alliance forces, although the beaten Italians tried to dissuade him from doing so. By the way, he became the second general in the Wehrmacht to be awarded the "Oak Leaves".

Fake Rommel's tanks


Real German tanks went into battle, and from behind "Rommel's tanks" for quantity, and the Alliance troops began to retreat. Already on March 31, 1941, Rommel's troops inflicted a heavy defeat on the British at El Ageila. On April 4, the strategic port of Benghazi was captured.

Then the El Mechili fort was captured. When Rommel began the siege of Fort El Mechili, he had only 7 tanks and 4 armored personnel carriers. In the advancing column, he put trucks, radio stations, field kitchens and several cars, the main task of which was to raise as much dust as possible on the flanks so that the enemy would mistake them for a large tank formation. For the best effect, palm branches were tied to the cars. Also, the cunning Rommel used captured trucks with motors and propellers from light aircraft installed on them. This allowed a lot of sand to be lifted into the sky, and it seemed that a whole tank battalion was going on the offensive. The Germans called these machines "Wind vans". Once again, his trick worked, and El Mechili was followed by the capture of Derna.

Afrika Korps tanks atack


This success could not go unnoticed and on April 22, 1941, Erwin Rommel was awarded the "Italian Golden Medal of Military Valor in Silver". The presentation was made by General Italo Gariboldi in the presence of General Mario Roatt and Minister Terruzzi. On April 28, Rommel was awarded the "Italian Military Order of Savoy - Grand Officers' Cross". "I wear it for you all!" Rommel said to his soldiers after accepting the award. The world started talking about Rommel!

Rommel attack in Libya, map 1941

By this time Rommel had already covered 300 kilometers. The relatively weak German forces recaptured all of Cyrenaica in Libya in just 12 days. The main forces of the Afrika Korps surrounded Tobruk. Impeccable leadership of the troops in the desert was possible due to the fact that Rommel personally flew on the Storsch reconnaissance aircraft and clearly saw the disposition of the troops.

Rommel and Storsch


In April and May 1941, fierce battles began on the approaches to Tobruk. Both sides suffered heavy losses. The Axis forces could not capture Tobruk, and the Alliance forces could not lift its siege. The attrition battles ended in favor of the Alliance. Rommel, without constant supply, retreated from Tobruk and from May 3, 1941 was forced to go on the defensive.

In June 1941, the British embarked on a broader operation that led to heavy tank battles in the Capuzzo and Sidi Omar area. Thanks to decisive action, Rommel defeated the British 7th Armored Division and won an outstanding victory, for which he was promoted to the rank of General der Panzertruppe (General of the Tank Army). The combined forces of German and Italian troops acquired the status of the tank group "Afrika". A long lull followed in North Africa until November 1941.

Serving with Rommel was not easy. He did not spare the people around him as well as he did not spare himself. To work with Rommel, one had to have an iron body and nerves of steel. Rommel was sometimes not shy in expressions, and always scolded the guilty commanders and officers. The British studied Rommel's combat experience and began to demand from their generals Wavell and Auchinleck not to sit in Cairo, but to be in the very center of the fighting, as Rommel did.

Operation Crusader

During Operation Crusader in November 1941, the number of British tanks outnumbered Rommel's tanks by 3 times. In this battle, known in history as the "Battle of Marmarica", more than 1,000 tanks, supported by many aircraft and guns, took part in the battle. This battle became the bloodiest in the entire African theater of operations during the Second World War. British troops were constantly receiving supplies and reinforcements, as a result, Rommel, without supplies in January 1942, retreated west to El Ageila. Due to the war with the Soviet Union, the high command rarely sent supplies to North Africa. And most of the supplies that were sent to Rommel went to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea due to the Alliance air raids from Malta.

FlaK-88 in North Africa with Rommel

Despite the slip, Rommel inflicted huge losses on the British troops. This prevented the Alliance from moving forward and consolidating its success. The Alliance troops lost almost all of their tanks, despite their total superiority. Once again, the skillful use of FlaK-88 anti-aircraft artillery against tanks decided the outcome of the battle and multiplied the British victory by zero.

Since January 1942, Rommel waited for reinforcements and prepared for another offensive. By this time, Rommel was significantly superior to all his opponents, not only in the ability to use the situation, but also in the ability to create favorable situations for victory. Before the start of the second offensive, Rommel had 79 Italian and 117 German tanks against 500 tanks of the Alliance troops, but this did not frighten Rommel.

Tobruk, Mersa El Brega

Traditionally, Rommel began his offensive with deception. On the night of 20-21 January, the village of Marsa El Brega and a freighter stranded near the coast were set on fire to create the appearance of destroying supplies with a view to further retreat. For several days in a row, under the close supervision of British reconnaissance aircraft, Rommel sent large convoys of captured equipment west to Tripoli. But at night, these same trucks were returning back with new reinforcements and ammunition. Pulling out the British, Rommel struck in two groups to the front and from the flank. Rommel himself led Marks' 1st attacking group. Panzer Group "Afrika" almost surrounded and half destroyed the 1st British Armored Division, captured supply columns and a huge amount of booty. It became clear that the new British reinforcements were completely inexperienced and Rommel had a great chance.

The Desert Fox

As always in his style, with the help of a false maneuver, Rommel completely disoriented the troops of the new British General Ritchie, who concentrated all his tanks in Benghazi. Rommel again led the 1st strike group and made a circular night march, as a result of which he unexpectedly hit Benghazi from the east. On January 29, 1942, Axis forces entered Benghazi, capturing 1,000 soldiers. Mussolini's radiogram, granting Rommel the right to attack Benghazi, was received already in the captured city.

On January 30, Panzer Group "Afrika" ​​received a new status - Panzer Army "Afrika". Erwin Rommel assumed overall command of the Panzer Army. On February 1, 1942, 50-year-old Erwin Rommel was promoted to Generaloberst for outstanding military successes in North Africa.

Second attack of Rommel in North Afrika, map 1942

To capture Tobruk, supplies and reinforcements were needed. In March 1942 Rommel flew first to Italy to meet with Mussolini to discuss the supply issue, and then to the Führer's headquarters "Wolf's Lair" to discuss the issue of Malta. Constant air raids from this island destroyed supplies going to Africa. On March 20, late in the evening, the first meeting between Rommel and Hitler took place, and in an unofficial setting, Hitler handed Rommel the "Swords" to the "Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves" for the brilliant victories in North Africa. Despite this, the high command was so carried away by the war with the Soviet Union that Rommel returned with nothing, while the Alliance received constant reinforcements in Cairo.

Erwin Rommel in Libya

On June 6, in one day, surrounding the confused enemy, 100 British tanks were shot down and 3,100 people were taken prisoner. On June 12, in one day, the British lost 120 tanks and, as a result, the forces of both sides were equalized. Rommel, with difficulty, but captured El-Ghazala and the way to Tobruk was open. On June 13, 1942, Rommel was awarded the "Colonial Order of the Star of Italy, Officer's breast Badge" by the Italian Field Marshal Ettore Bastiko.

Siege of Tobruk in 1942

By the evening of June 18, Tobruk was completely surrounded. On June 20, 1942, the storming of the fortress began and the world was in shock - Tobruk fell! General Klopper and 35,000 British soldiers were captured. This was the biggest defeat in British history. On the evening of June 21, 1942, Rommel received a radio message that he had been awarded the highest rank in the army - Field Marshal. He became the youngest field marshal of the Third Reich. Also from his nominal commander-in-chief Kesselring, Rommel received the high award "Luftwaffe Pilot-Observer Badge with Diamonds" for excellent leadership in joint operations of the ground forces and the Luftwaffe in North Africa, as well as for achieving military success in land battles through regular overflights of their positions on the unprotected Storch. He became the only land general to receive such a high award from the Luftwaffe. It was also from that moment on that Rommel was nicknamed The Desert Fox for his cunning, dexterity and financial successes. Rommel himself celebrated his great success with a glass of trophic wine.

Erwin Rommel in Tobruk

Wasting no time, Rommel gave the order to prepare an invasion of Egypt. After the capture of Tobruk, Hitler's and Mussolini's plan was to organize a line of revolution along the Egyptian border and not let the Alliance troops into Libya. The ambitions of Rommel and Mussolini prevailed, for this reason Mussolini gave Rommel permission to pursue the British 8th Army in Egypt. On the evening of June 23, the Afrika Korps, with only 44 tanks in service, crossed the Egyptian border.

At Mersa Matruh, Rommel's troops wedged into the weak center of the enemy's defense, cut it and surrounded the enemy's troops. The British began to withdraw all troops from Alexandria to Palestine. The streets of Cairo were clogged with troops preparing to defend Cairo. Alliance ships began to leave Alexandria and sail to Djibouti.

Afrika Korps attack on Egypt

The Desert Fox approached El Alamein with 36 tanks. Fierce fighting began, Rommel was unable to enter the rear of the British defense and Panzer Army "Afrika" ​​stopped. At this stage in the military circles, Rommel was assessed as follows: he is a brave and talented commander, who knows how to fight in the desert, but like everyone else is not immune from mistakes.

From 13 to 27 July, Rommel's forces and the Alliance forces attacked each other, and as a result, they were completely exhausted. Rommel urgently needed support and reinforcements, but due to the activity of Malta he could not get them. He asked the commander of the German 10th Air Force General Geisler to bomb Malta, but the proposition was refused. Rommel understood the threat to Malta's activity from the very beginning, but no one wanted to listen to him. A torpedo fired into a fuel tanker on August 31 on the way to Tobruk Bay finally buried all Rommel's hopes.

Erwin Rommel in North Africa

The British were so afraid of the Desert Fox that, having a huge advantage, they did not launch a serious offensive for a month. Both sides began to dig in their positions. They created the largest minefield in human history. The mined line of demarcation stretched from the Mediterranean Sea for 60 km deep into the desert, right up to the giant cliff of the desert plateau.

El Alamein battle map


Churchill arrived in North Africa and appointed Bernard Montgomery as the new commander-in-chief of the 8th Army. The Alliance deployed gigantic forces to North Africa. Rommel had only one way out - a lightning attack on the Montgomery headquarters in the rear, and then the capture of Cairo before 1,500 British tanks were brought there.

This attack began on the night of 30/31 August. Less than 100 of Rommel's tanks marched south to bypass 500 British tanks on the El Alamein line of contact. Rommel was caught in heavy rain, then in a quick squeak, then air raids began. Time has been lost, Rommel's plans are revealed. On September 1, Rommel's troops stopped - there was nothing left. Behind enemy lines, Rommel became completely paralyzed and was forced to wait for Montgomery's attack, just standing in one place. Montgomery was afraid to attack and the next day Rommel collected the remnants of fuel from the tanks and gave the order to withdraw. In the middle of the desert all the tanks had to be abandoned. In the event of a British counterattack, the war in North Africa could have ended, but none of the British tanks moved.

Rommel's attack on Alam El Halfa


On September 9, Rommel handed the report to the chief of staff in Berlin. He said that no matter how heroically the army fought, without supplies and reinforcements there is no chance in a war against the combined forces of the British Empire and the United States, which have already begun the landing in Morocco. But Hitler demanded to develop a new plan and continue the offensive in the direction of Alexandria and Cairo, promising unlimited reserves.

Taking advantage of another lull, while Montgomery was building up his power and both sides continued to strengthen the demarcation line near El Alamein, the ailing Rommel flew to Berlin for treatment and to meet with Hitler. Once again, he believed Hitler's promises to urgently send reinforcements of all kinds to Africa and establish an uninterrupted supply of troops. Goebbels' propaganda could not stand aside. Rommel walked triumphantly at the Berlin Sports Stadium in the presence of thousands of officers. All of Germany applauded him. Rommel was photographed and interviewed even for foreign publications. It was a career triumph for Erwin Rommel.

Erwin Rommel in 1943


Hitler once again deceived and did not send any reinforcements to North Africa, and the Alliance created a huge army. Montgomery hastened to attack while Rommel was still in Germany. On the night of 23-24 October, the British commander-in-chief attacked German positions at El Alamein. Rommel interrupted a badly needed treatment and hurried back to North Africa. When Rommel returned in a hurry from Berlin, it did not take him long to realize that nothing can be changed in this chaos. His deputy Stumme was killed.

On the 12th day of the attack, Montgomery penetrated deeply into the defensive lines of the Germans. Rommel gave the order to withdraw to the prepared defensive positions and transmitted a radiogram to Berlin. No one dared to wake Hitler in order to report this news. The next day, when Hitler found out about the incident, he was furious, shouted, raged, scolded Rommel and sent an order to Africa: "... Army "Afrika" immediately turn around and take up old positions ..." Rommel was forced to obey the order - he stopped the retreat. But after Montgomery broke through the 20-kilometer defense of the Italians and in three places wedged into the defenses of the Axis troops, Rommel gave a new order ... At his own peril and risk, in opposition to Hitler's order, saving the lives of his soldiers, Rommel again and finally gave the order to retreat.

Erwin Rommel and generals in North Africa


The front was finally broken through, and the remnants of the German divisions retreated to the west in an organized manner, holding back the increasing pressure of the advancing British forces. Criticizing Hitler, Rommel was still internally not ready to name the main reason for the fatal failures and blame the Fuehrer for everything. At this point, the usually reserved Rommel stopped hiding his skepticism towards Hitler. Rommel had thoughts of submitting a letter of resignation, but the officer's decency and a sense of responsibility for his troops did not allow him to leave.

Erwin Rommel always remained a knight, and therefore on October 18, 1942, when the well-known order "hostage decree" came, suggesting the execution of all hostages, Rommel burned it, and this secret was guarded until the end of the war. This fact was revealed at the Nuremberg Trials.

The Desert Fox


In a letter to his wife dated October 29, Rommel wrote: "I have little hope left. At night, I lie with wide open eyes and cannot sleep from heavy meditation. During the day, I feel deathly tired. What happens if things go wrong here? This thought torments me day and night. If this happens, I see no way out."

At the turn of 1942 and 1943, German troops left Egypt. Montgomery was not unreasonably afraid of the Desert Fox and never rushed to advance. Having a powerful army, he was able to make flanking rounds of the German fortifications from the desert side, forcing Panzer Army "Africa" ​​again to be pulled back. Without a fight, they were forced to leave Tobruk on November 13, 1942. The British took El Ageila on November 27.

Rommel retreat


In January 1943, Rommel boarded a courier plane and personally flew to Rastenburg. It was forbidden to appear at Hitler's headquarters without being summoned, but Rommel was immediately admitted. After a cold greeting, Hitler lunged at him. With all his might, Rommel tried to open the eyes of Hitler and force him to make the decision to evacuate. The possessed dictator claimed that he looked to the future much further than his generals. Hitler remained firm and this time, giving the order: "To hold on to the last ... !!!" Finally Rommel saw with his own eyes what a dictator is. From that time on, he seriously revised his attitude towards the Fuehrer and wrote in his diary: "I began to understand that Adolf Hitler simply did not want to see the situation as it was, and instead of making the right decision, which is prompted by reason, he reacted cleanly emotionally ..."

After that, Rommel set off along the way with Goering to Italy. Although Rommel no longer believed the promises of the Italian dictator, he still tried to persuade Mussolini to arrange supplies for the "Afrika" Tank Army, but at an unofficial meeting Rommel heard nothing, except for ridicule in his direction from Goering and Mussolini. Rommel returned to Africa and now knew exactly what the end awaited his army. In a circle of close comrades, Rommel began to talk about the fact that Germany began to rapidly approach defeat.

Rommel with map


Immediately after returning from the Fuehrer headquarters in January 1943, Rommel first arrived in Tunisia to meet with the commander of the 5th Panzer Army in Tunisia von Arnim and discuss a plan for the unification of troops and the general defense of Tunisia. On January 23, 1943, Alliance troops, possessing a 14-fold superiority in tanks, entered Tripoli, Rommel withdrew to the border with Tunisia.

On January 25, Rommel became commander-in-chief of the 1st Italian Army, based on the remnants of the "Afrika" Panzer Army. Despite more or less well-established supply lines between Italy and Tunisia, the forces of Rommel's 1st Italian Army and von Arnim's 5th Panzer Army received half of what was needed.

Afrika Korps in Tunisia


Rommel's last famous attack took place on 14 February. From the south of Tunisia, in the northwest direction, Rommel's Panzer Division wedged into the flank of the American Armored Division and cut it. After Faid, former Afrika Korps fighters took Gafsa, Feriana, Thelepte and on February 20 Rommel's troops broke through the Kasserine Pass. It was a shock to American troops. As a result, the entire Tunisian front line of the Americans was threatened. General Alexander was forced to take emergency measures to stop Rommel. As a result, the most powerful attacks of the US Air Force forced Rommel to stop and retreat beyond the Kesserin Pass. Mussolini also helped, who on January 18 rejected Rommel's plan to attack Tebessa and ordered an attack in the direction of Thala and Le Kef. Thus, the exact direction where Alexander expected him. Rommel commented on this decision very simply: "incredible myopia".

Rommel attack in Kasserine Pass, 1943


After this success, on February 23, 1943, 51-year-old Erwin Rommel became commander-in-chief of the unification of the 1st Italian Army and the 5th Panzer Army in Army Group "Afrika". Rommel's second attack on March 6 in southern Tunisia on the British position ended in vain: strong anti-tank defenses and a lack of forces forced the retreat. Rommel was finally convinced of the complete hopelessness of his troops. All forces were exhausted, and Rommel began to insist on the urgent evacuation of troops in order to avoid imminent collapse. Hitler and Mussolini did not want to give up North Africa, and thus the petitions were rejected.

Erwin Rommel in Tunisia


Rommel continued to insist and as a result of long disputes, on March 9, 1943, Rommel was summoned to Germany. He returned to his homeland old, sick and devastated. At a meeting with Hitler, he was removed under the pretext of "health reasons." Most likely, Hitler wanted to save a field marshal with such vast experience, foreseeing in advance the future steps of the Alliance in Europe.

For 2 years of the African company, Rommel became a man-myth, and friends and enemies composed legends about him, mixing truth and fiction. When he left Africa, his opponents regretted this loss, since he took a significant place in their life and imagination. This happened thanks to his very good attitude towards British prisoners: thousands of prisoners after meeting with Rommel were able to safely return to their positions. In captivity, they received equal portions of food and water as the German soldiers.

The Desert Fox in North Africa


He was an unsurpassed master of maneuver, and his divisions even when completely defeated, were always revived and delivered new attacks. Many of the German soldiers wrote home to their relatives something like the following: "I will soon return home on vacation. Don't worry about me. We all know that our field marshal is invincible!"

On March 13, 1943 in Berlin behind closed doors Erwin Rommel was awarded "Diamonds" to the "Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords". He became the sixth overall, and the first representative of the ground forces to receive one of the highest awards in Germany for heroism. It is a known fact that at the moment Erwin Rommel was presented with such a high award, Hitler said something like: "I should have listened to your opinion!" Despite this, the rift in relations between Hitler and Rommel continued to grow, and the gap that arose after the Tunisian disaster became generally insurmountable. Upon arrival home, looking at the scale of the defeat, Rommel said to his friend, a certain Farney: "The war is lost ...".

Rommel defeat
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