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Second World War

On September 1, 1939, the Second World War began with the invasion of Poland by German troops. From that time on, German soldiers had to defend the Fuehrer's ideas on the battlefield for 6 long years. Rommel, even before the outbreak of hostilities, on August 1, 1939, was promoted to Major General and was appointed commander of Hitler's headquarters during the invasion of Poland. Now his circle of acquaintances began to include people who at that time determined the fate of the German army and the German people.

Being close to the Fuehrer at war, traveling in his train with the strange name "America", Rommel, like a blind man, did not yet notice Hitler's true intentions regarding the future fate of Europeans and humanity in general. The Fuhrer at that time had nothing to do with the physical and mental zombie, which almost went insane and committed suicide on April 30, 1945. “I had a lot of problems with him. He seemed to just enjoy being under fire," Rommel recalled later.

Hitler and Rommel in Poland, 1939

In Poland, Rommel was seriously looking at the actions of a new type of weapon - tanks. He seriously monitored and studied the actions of tank units during a lightning-fast attack - "Blitzkrieg", realizing that the future belongs to military combat equipment. Feeling that his dedication, combat experience and understanding of tactics could seriously affect the actions of tank forces, Rommel could not sit at the headquarters and be satisfied with the commandant's position. After returning from Poland, Rommel approached Hitler and asked for a new appointment:
- And what do you want? - Hitler asked.
- Panzer division!!! - answered Rommel.

Hitler loved and respected the young general and believed that he was capable of much. On February 15, 1940, Rommel's dream came true - he replaced Lieutenant General Georg Stumme as commander of the 7th Panzer Division, part of the 4th Panzer Corps of Hoth, Army Group "B", which was sent to the Western Front to prepare for the invasion of Belgium and France.

7th Panzer Division of Erwin Rommel


On May 10, 1940 at 5:35 am, Major General Erwin Rommel's 7th Panzer Division crossed the Belgian state border. His division was one of the most poorly equipped units in the Wehrmacht. Of the 218 tanks of the division, more than half were Czech t38 tanks, which were useless against British and French ones. Despite this, Rommel gathered the entire 7th Panzer Division into a fist and forced the Alliance troops to withdraw towards the English Channel. On May 12, the division reached Danant. The next day, after heavy fighting, it crossed the Meuse. As a result of this operation, Rommel was wounded, but did not leave the battlefield and led the division to victory. For this, on May 17, 1940, he was awarded the "Claps" to the "Iron Cross of II Class".

Ghost Division leading by Erwin Rommel


On May 15, 2 days before the delivery of the first "Claps", Rommel got into the lead tank of Oberst Rothenburg, the commander of one of his tank regiments, moved into the operational space and completely defeated 2 French divisions having just one regiment. For this achievement Rommel was awarded the "Claps" to the "Iron Cross of I Class", which was awarded on May 21, 1940.

Map of the 7th Panzer Division battles in May 1940


On the same day, May 21, in the Arras area, Rommel's advanced units were attacked by 2 French tank regiments, a total of 70 tanks. Rommel was not prepared for this. At this point, he gave the order to lower the 88mm FlaK 88 anti-aircraft guns to a horizontal position, located behind his defensive lines. This was the first time that the "FlaKs" began to be used to destroy tanks. The result was simply stunning - there was no better weapon for fighting tanks. After this incident, "FlaKs" were used not only to fight enemy air forces, but also against tanks, on all fronts until the last day of the war.

FlaK 88 in France, 1940
Arras map, Erwin Rommel, May 1940


At that moment, the name "7th Panzer Division" disappeared, and everyone started talking about "Ghost Division". During the breakthrough, no one knew the location of the division and where it would strike next time, including the general staff. Rommel realized for himself that the high command really did not understand anything about waging a tank war, so he simply cut off the connection, and explained later. The headquarters criticized him for this behavior, since they were unable to determine the location of the 7th Panzer Division at a particular moment. Despite this, on May 27, 1940, 48-year-old Erwin Rommel was nominated for the highest military award in Germany - the "Knight's Cross", which was presented by Karl-August Henke by the order of Adolf Hitler.

In the period from May 27 to June 1, Erwin Rommel was temporarily given control of the 5th Panzer Division for the competent organization of defense around Lille, a little north of Arras. The day after completing the task, Rommel was informed that Hitler wanted to meet with him. On June 3, the meeting took place, and Rommel became the only division commander with whom Hitler wanted to meet. All of Rommel's actions aroused strong sympathy with Hitler, as evidenced by the words of the Fuehrer at the meeting: "We were all very worried about you!"

Hitler and Rommel "Ghost Division", 1940

After meeting with Hitler, he returned to the location of his division and continued the offensive. On June 5, Rommel's division wedged into the enemy's defenses at Abbeville, but the defense was not able to withstand the onslaught. Without slowing down, Rommel's division from Abbeville swiftly headed towards the Seine.​

On June 8, Rommel's division was already in Rouen. Taking advantage of the enemy's confusion, Rommel deployed his forces to the sea and on June 11 cut off the British Mountain Division, as well as significant French forces between Le Havre and Deppé. Further, the 7th Panzer Division on June 17 began to encircle the French garrison in the Cherbourg region, and on June 19 the garrison surrendered to Rommel. Rommel wrote his famous letter to his wife about "an easy walk in France" on June 21, 1940 from Rennes. On June 25, in Rennes, the combat path of the "Ghost Division" in France ended.

7th Panzer Division attack on France


Hunter's instinct helped him develop new tank breakthrough tactics. Rommel personally developed and applied in practice a new topographic system for dividing maps of the area into squares, indicated by numbers and letters. This allowed the tankers to quickly navigate the terrain and report the location using a special code. The simplicity, reliability and efficiency of "Rommel's topographic system" led to its widespread distribution in the Wehrmacht. 

The 7th Panzer Division, which had not even been taken into account before the start of the campaign, inflicted much heavier losses on the enemy than any other German division. For 6 weeks, Rommel's division lost 2,594 people killed, wounded and captured. During the same period, his division captured 97,468 people, shot down 52 aircraft, destroyed 15 on the ground and captured 10 more French Air Force aircraft. Of the Alliance commanders who fell into the hands of Rommel, there were such personalities as: Admiral Abrial, commander of the French Atlantic Fleet, and 4 more admirals, commander of the French Сorps, commander of the British 51st Infantry Division and 20 other generals, many headquarters. Also added to the list of trophies: 277 guns, 64 anti-tank guns, 458 tanks and armored vehicles, 2,000 cars, 5,000 trucks, 1,500 horse carts, tons of provisions and ammunition. The number of Alliance tanks destroyed and enemy soldiers killed by Rommel's division is not known. During the entire campaign, Rommel's division lost only 42 tanks. As a result, for the impeccable leadership of the armored division, on July 1, 1940, Rommel was awarded the "German Army Heer Tank Battle Badge in Silver".

Rommel with prisoner generals in France, June 1940


Rommel spent the remainder of 1940 in Bordeaux, training his division. He also worked with Dr. Goebbels on "Victory in the West" movie and began writing another book "A Diary of the 7th Panzer Division's Action during the French Campaign". Rommel had a purely American attitude towards publicity. Unlike most German generals, he was well aware of the importance of relations with the press and skillfully used them to develop his career. Thanks to Goebbels and the Propaganda Ministry, he became known to everyone. The nation proudly pronounced his name, but the hour of the genius of tank attacks had not yet come.

In early February 1941 Rommel was summoned to Hitler's headquarters in Staaken ...

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