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Preventable casualties in the North Africa

Medicines for sick Afrika Korps soldiers

In 1990, two US Army colonels and military medics published their research article in ARMY magazine on disease statistics for soldiers in North Africa during World War II. After 30 years, in 2020, the article was remembered again and re-posted on another military web-site.

Colonels Ronald F. Bellamy and Craig H. Llewellyn conducted research on diseases and epidemics in various troops during World War II. The main message in the article was the idea that Rommel ignored his sick soldiers and lost, while British General Slim took care of his soldiers, which helped him win.

The article turned out to be interesting, but those who read it, then expressed their fair dissatisfaction on public forums. Of course, Colonels Bellamy and Llewellyn are great professionals in their field and respected military doctors, but some important points are not taken into account in this work. In the article, they emphasize the facts, but do not talk about the technical reasons.

The comments of people on various forums concerned the following points:

- In the article they compare the situation of Erwin Rommel in North Africa in the early years of the war (1941-1942) and the situation of General Sir William Slim in Burma in the later years of the war (1943-1944). The production capacity of medicines and the medical supply of the armies during the war multiplied every year. For this reason, it is not correct to compare these periods. Why didn’t they compare the data on diseases in the armies of Rommel and Auchinleck in 1941, for example? It would be fair.

- The article gives an example that Rommel during the battle of El Alamein had 3 sick for every 1 sick Briton and Rommel was personally blamed for this. There is not a word in the article that Erwin Rommel received a third of the necessary supplies due to constant air raids in the Mediterranean Sea and the sinking of supply ships. At the same time, the British received in the port of Alexandria a huge number of supply ships from Australia and India, which came freely through the Red Sea. Rommel was sorely short of medicines.

- The article mentions a large number of patients due to poor nutrition and diet. For the same reason, the lack of supplies Rommel's troops did not even have enough drinking water. Von Mellenthin's memoir tells how German soldiers had to take over British warehouses, not for a tactical move, but simply to grab fuel, food and water.

- In the article, the colonels forgot to remind that the British troops had been present in Egypt for a long time and were ready for all the conditions of waging war in the desert in terms of medicine. In turn, Germany in 1940 did not even think that they would urgently need to transfer troops to North Africa to help the Italians. As for the medical part of the war in the desert, nothing was ready by the time the German Afrika Korps landed.

- The article does not say anything about the fact that, by order of Rommel, all captured British soldiers received everything the same as German soldiers. Thus, constantly having on average only a third of the necessary supply, Rommel had to share his medicines with captured soldiers. There is nothing about this fact in the article.


At the end of this analysis, it should be noted that in the article the authors did not forget to mention that even Rommel personally was hospitalized twice from North Africa. They also cited a book by General Slim, where he talks about how even in 1943 he had three problems in the army, where the first is supply, and the second is health. All this directly indicates that the quality and volume of supplies directly affects the level of the medical condition of the army. Rommel had only a third of the necessary supplies in both 1941 and 1942.

The military doctors who wrote this article described in detail the number of patients at different stages, but forgot to indicate the most important numbers before their criticism - the difference in the amount of medical supplies available to the troops of Rommel and his opponents in North Africa. Well, it was necessary to talk about the supply and the role of Malta in this matter.

The two colonels became somewhat famous because, instead of a general analysis and comparison of the medical conditions of the armies during the battle in North Africa, they turned the text into accusing Rommel and comparing him to a British general. The keyword "Rommel" made the article popular and we are discussing it 30 years after it was written, although in fact the article is about medical conditions during the desert war, and not about Rommel.



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