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The Rommel Papers, edited by Basil Liddell-Hart

Discussion in 'Biographies and Everything Else' started by ColHessler, Jun 11, 2020.

  1. ColHessler

    ColHessler Member

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    Length 545 pages, including index

    Rommel the author may be known to those of us who read his WWI manual/autobiography Infantry Attacks. He intended to make a sequel with his WWII experiences. These were the notes he was going to use, with gaps filled by his letters home, and chapters written by his son Manfred, and his chief of staff in Africa, General Fritz Bayerlein.

    We start off with Liddell-Hart's glowing introduction. It's possible Liddell-Hart may have been enraptured by getting to know a man who took his and John Fuller's theories and put them into practice. Liddell-Hart goes on to provide many footnotes and corrections to Rommel's writings, as he takes us through the campaign in France in 1940 with the 7th Panzer Division. We go then to where Rommel is most famous, North Africa and the campaign that made him a household name. His frustrations with the higher-ups, like Italy's Commando Supremo and Hitler's meddling, and the battles themselves and richly captured by Rommel's pen.

    General Bayerlein gives us the time when Rommel was briefly in charge in northern Italy, and then Rommel picks up to tell of the work to get the Atlantic Wall together. The Normandy invasion, and his dealings with Hitler again, the fighter attack which nearly killed him, and the tragic end to his life, and recounted by Manfred.

    It's a lot to digest, and since it's mostly a rough draft, and for us Yanks its translation into British English, require patience on your behalf. But, for an understanding of one of Germany's most skilled generals, it is worth the effort.
     
  2. Christopher67

    Christopher67 Member

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    I read "The Rommel Papers" and found it impressive for other reasons....

    The book clearly demonstrates that Rommel, right from his arrival in Africa, was going to over-reach his orders, and do something other than what he was sent to Africa for in the first place...
    Rommels task was to support his allies in Africa.
    He was not briefed to conquer the Suez and Alexandria, nor was he ever told to advance any further than the Libyan/Egytian border.
    Even for his first offensive, in May of 1941, Rommel was exceeding his orders, and totally ignoring advice from the Italians.
    The Italians knew something that Rommel could never quite grasp, namely, that in the Western Desert, logistics was KING. Nothing you did should have ever been attempted without a firm logistic arrangement as a solid base for operations.
    Rommel ignored Italian advice consistently.
    Rommel even went so far as to complain that Italian divisions were getting more supplies than "his" Germans.
    Rommel consistently treated his Italian superiors as if they did not exist, going over their heads and whining to Hitler on several dozen occasions. It was a pattern that was set in concrete for the entire length of his stay in Africa.
    Rommel even had the audacity to blame the Italian Regia marina for "failing to deliver sufficient quantities of supplies and men", a claim that, when one looks at the figures, is not only false, but yet another example of Rommels utter contempt for the Italian military, or their hierarchy, or the fighting spirit and sacrifice that the Rgia Marina showed in getting Rommel's troops and equipment to Africa in the first instance.

    Rommel regularly outran his supply chain, and regularly overextended the operational time length that his supply situation should have imposed on him to begin with.
    Rommel also regularly went running to Hitler to complain about his self-imposed operational problems.

    One only has to examine Rommels operational movements during the post "Crusader" period to see his anti-Italianism and overextension of resources coming to the fore.

    Pre-Crusader, Rommels forces were stalemated, with Tobruk still in Allied hands, In previous operations, like before his "Dash to the Wire" (another example of a logistically unsound move), Rommel requested that German air units that were ''preparing' Malta for operation "Herkules" (the invasion of Malta by Italo-German parachute landings and Italian sea landings), Rommel interrupted their good work over Malta to support his own move forward, promising to return Luftwaffe assets in 3 or 4 weeks.

    As we know, he broke through British defences by simply going around them at Bir Hakiem, (although not as fast as he wanted due to a spirited defence by Free French soldiers there), Rommel used the air superiority given him by the sudden presence of the Luftwaffe Fliegerkorps X to bounce forward into Tobruk, which was not held as stubbornly or actively anymore, its garrison no longer being the very competent Australians.

    He should have stopped at this point, and returned Fliegerkorps X to Malta as he said he would. Malta was ripe for the taking, as shown by reports on the state of the garrison from its own commander. With Malta in the bag, Rommels supply problems would have mostly ceased to exist....

    But no...

    With his brand new Field Marshal's baton in hand, and an inflated ego luring him on to Suez and beyond, Rommel committed the same error yet again, and pushed on into Egypt before his supply chain was in order.

    In the most decisive battle of the Desert War, Rommels forces were stopped cold by British General Sir Claude Auchinlek at a battle called First Alemain.

    Now, the only reason Rommel had gotten that far to begin with was because of the overextended presense of the Fliegerkorps units to begin with. Hell, he could not have broken out of the "Crusader" position and taken Tobruk either without them.

    Rommel now whined that those same Luftwaffe units had to be kept on, despite vigourous protests from Kesselring, and every Italian right up to Mussolini.

    Rommel whined to Hitler once again, as hed done so often in the past...and the Fuhrer's favourite got his way again, as so often in the past.....

    Malta....stayed British. Rommel had blown the best chance they had for taking it, and the indications were that Malta would most likely have fallen, too, with its garrison soldiers widely dispersed to repair bomb damage, it ammunition and stores constantly at a critical level, its soldiers, (only 4 brigades of them) with uniforms in tatters and demoralized, and a definite case of a 'siege mentality". No doubt about it, it might have been a tough fight, but it might have been a losing fight as well, with over 1,200 Italo-German aircraft supporting, and a garrison that would have faced not only an air landing that they could do nothing about, but a landing from the sea that would have fatally split their defencive counterthrusts.

    Yep...Rommel behaved true to form.

    Malta remained British...

    Troops for "Herkules" ended up as ground reinforcements fed in for Second Alemain.

    Blaming the Italians as always, Rommel pinched their transport trucks and set his Army off for Libya, for the final time this time. Monty has been criticized for not pursueing with much vigour, but Monty sums it up best...."We had been twice up and twice back already, and I was determined that it was not to happen again.

    I am no fan of Erwin Rommel. I prefer to think of Von Runstedt's criticism of him as "Only a good divisional general". Rommel was ignorant of logistics and not Staff College trained. He was not in Africa to conquer Egypt, he was there to hold Libya and shore up the Italians.

    Rommel was a political appointee. His contempt for the Italian military could be traced back to the Battle of Madajur, when he got his Pour le Merite. Rommel used to pay lip service to the Italian soldier, but then complain about them to Hitler. Hitler called off "Herkules", too, bevause he felt that the Italian navy would "run for home" and leave the air landed forces stranded.

    When one considers that the Italians had shown great gallantry at sea, had been starved of oil by broken German promises, (they simply did not receive oil in sufficient quantities from Germany, EVER), and with Rommel constantly blaming the Regia Marina for his self imposed supply difficulties, one doesn't need to wonder where Hitler might have gotten the idea from that the Regia Marina would "run for home" from. Hitlers naval advisor in the Med had been with Rommel just before he delivered himself to Hitler, in turn just days before Hitler cancelled "Herkules" for good.

    Rommel....promoted beyond his ability...political appointee....logistically ignorant....constantly fueding with subordinates and superiors, both German and Italian...

    Its all there in the "Rommel Papers" for you to read for yourself.

    Liddell hart was a victim of German propaganda, and British attitudes to Rommel from the desert campaign.

    Rommel should be DEMYTHOLOGIZED, and put back in his place as "really only a good divisional general"

    Drusus
     
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  3. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Member

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    Liddell-Hart is now rather unfashionable. He was a brilliant tactician and writer. The Rommel Papers need to be read in the context of his time and agenda.

    Like Montgomery he was badly wounded as a junior officer in the First World War. He also wrote and lectured about infantry tactics delivering an influential lecture on infiltration techniques -= the expanding torrent. Like Montgomery after him, he wrote the tactics manual Infantry Training vol 2 War. Montgomery stayed in and went up,. Liddell Hart went out as a captain and wrote about war in newspapers and books. Think Max Hastings but with actual military experience and insight. ;) . He was an influential historian and military commentator who championed what he called the Indirect approach, which involved lots of mechanization and avoiding frontal engagements that led to big bloody wars. It was as popular as any strategy can be that promised to win wars without casualties. He was one of the men that castigated the first world war generals for their incompetence As a special adviser to the Minister of War Samuel Hoare-Belisha he was as popular with the Army as Dominic Cummings is with health workers - Non Brits may have to search him on T'internet.

    During and after WW2 much of his output was on the lines of I told you so. Liddell Hart's s post war interviews of German generals include lots of quotes that he uses to support his claim that he invented Blitzkrieg but the British wouldn't listen and the Germans put it into practice. However, the modern interpretation is that these were men facing trial and would say anything that persuaded an influential Brit to write something nice about them. He was partially responsible for the myth of Blitzkreig.

    For the last fifty years the trend in British Military History has been to rehabilitate the reputations of the First World War generals denigrated by Liddel Hart and to point out the flaws in his ideas and work.

    If you want to understand his affinity to Rommel and the Infantry Attacks, read the transcript of his 1921 RUSI lecture "The "Man-in-the-Dark" Theory of Infantry Tactics and the "Expanding Torrent" System of Attack. and the Q&A are available online B.H. Liddell-Hart: The "Man-in-the-Dark" and the "Expanding Torrent"#
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2020
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  4. Carronade

    Carronade Ace Patron  

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    Rommel certainly exceeded his orders on many occasions, but if the German intention was simply to help the Italians hold the line they occupied as of March 1941, I think it was unrealistic. As the British built up troops, supplies, and especially air power in Cyrenaica, the Axis position in Tripolitania would become untenable. In particular, the British would be able to cover convoys to Malta and fly in aircraft (the distance may have been a bit too much for single-engine fighters). In time the Axis supply lines would be largely interdicted and their forces on the ground unable to stand up to a renewed attack.

    Rommel's first offensive, taking him to the Egyptian border, didn't give him much more of a front line to hold, but it did secure his rear, with his supply base at Benghazi secure but closer to the front than Tripoli had been to El Agheila. Malta was isolated, and the Axis were in a far better position to reduce it than when the British held Cyrenaica. And if necessary, there was space to retreat and regroup, as they did after Operation Crusader.

    On Rommel's second advance to the frontier in June 1942, he even managed to eliminate the nuisance of Tobruk. He captured a trove of material, including most of the lorries and petrol which carried his troops to El Alamein. Even there, just a few miles from Alexandria and with a railroad, it took the British until October to amass sufficient troops and supplies to successfully attack the Panzerarmee at the of its long and tenuous supply line. Suppose Rommel had put the same effort into fortifying the frontier and building up supplies, especially fuel. How much longer would it take 8th Army to prepare an offensive, and how likely would they be to achieve the sort of decisive victory they did historically?

    I'm actually skeptical about the whole idea of the Germans sending troops to North Africa, but if they were going to, advancing to the Egyptian frontier might have been the best option.
     
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  5. harolds

    harolds Member

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    Re. "Rommel ignored Italian advice consistently." Of course he did! After the abysmal poor showing of the Italian Army in that era, what German officer would give any credence to what the Italians said?

    The idea that Rommel didn't understand logistics is total BS! He understood the need for supplies as well as anybody else. How could he not? He often had to wait on an offensive so as to build up supplies. While he didn't have a General Staff education, he did have staff officers who did- v. Mellithin being a case in point! Rommel wanted supplies! Hitler promised them! Kesselring promised to get them to him. On the strength of these false promises Rommel continued to fight in Egypt when actually he wanted to retire westward.

    Rommel was an offensive-minded general even by the standards of an Army that was very offensive oriented. If all that was wanted by Hitler was to have the Italians keep a toe-hold in Africa, then why did he give Rommel the command? Rommel understood that his forces were going to be out-numbered and the only way to keep the Axis in Africa was to keep the initiative, otherwise, as Carronade points out, the British would have built up their forces farther west and bundled the Germans and Italians out of the continent.

    Once the Americans landed in his rear, Rommel knew that Panzer Armee Afrika was a nut in a nutcracker and wanted to save all his wonderfully experience troops to fight another day, somewhere else. Hitler and Kesselring forced him to keep fighting there. When he pointed out the obvious, that the game in Africa was up, he was labled a defeatist! Actually, he was a realist.

    Rommel did make mistakes. However, as one of Napoleon's Marshals once said, "Show me a general who hasn't made any mistakes and I will show you a general who hasn't seen much war!"
     
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  6. Christopher67

    Christopher67 Member

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    Understanding a need for supplies and understanding of what is possible when supplied are two entirely different skills.

    Staff training, particularly in the German experience, tells you what is possible and what is not possible.
    If Rommel understood this, he would have realised that he did not have the shipping space to supply troops in sufficient quantities to make a proper push towards Suez and beyond.
    Proper understanding of what is logistically possible shapes everything you do in a place like the western desert.

    Rommel never had the resources to do anything other than operate in Libya.

    And as for ignoring Italian advice, the same advice was often given to him by his own German superiors AND subordinates. Rommel would not listen to what anybody else was telling him.

    The capture of the port of Tobruk was just a stepping stone to holding Libya. Tobruk was to small to support further operations into Egypt. If Rommel wanted a proper port, he would have to have taken Alexandria.

    This is why Malta was such a crucial position. It would have cleared Rommels rear areas entirely. The Axis needed Malta under their control for this, this Allies didn't. Most of the Allied supply chain ran along the Takoradi route across Africa, or around the Cape of Good Hope and into Suez.

    Rommels lack of these alternatives put Malta fairly in the crosshairs as a position that the Axis absolutely NEEDED.

    And why blame the Italians for your supply woes when a clear supply route was all a matter of clearing MALTA.

    Anyhow, if this needs to be pointed out to a commander at any point, (as it so often was to Rommel), then it demonstrates his uncaring attitude to the logistic realties of his theater.

    Look at the figures for tonnage that the Italians delivered. Then look at the figures for numbers of troops successfully deployed to Africa. The Italians did a great job in both departments.
    Now, arm Italian troops properly, and train them properly, and they fought as well as any nation.
    Give them obsolete equipment and rush their training through, and the results are to be fully expected.

    Easy for Rommel to blame the Italians when, as a political appointee, he can run to Der Adolf every time and get his way like any spoilt child does with daddy.

    Read the Rommel Papers and find out. The whole publication is so self serving for Rommel, and contradictory to how he is perceived by modern Germans themselves.

    If you ask modern Germans, they will straight out tell you that "The Rommel Mystique" is so much Goebbels hoo-ha and noise, and that they don't understand why we in the west, mostly in Britain, hold Rommel up to be something far bigger and better than his achievements (or lack of them).

    Its an old, old propaganda trick that Roman historians used to know quite well. When you exaggerate the enemy and put their generals and commanders up on a pedestal, it makes your victories over those same people look all the more high and mighty.

    Rome did this for many of it's vanquished enemies, particularly the Carthiginans and Hannibal Barca

    British victories in the desert look all the better for posterity when Rommel is elevated to the level of a genius.
    It causes the British to justify themselves to themselves and the ally that actually defeated the German army while the Brits gave them one excuse after another as to exactly why they weren't opening up a second front and dieing in droves.....

    And that ally was Russia, the true victors that defeated the greater mass of the German army...

    And Rommel wasn't there either.

    Chris
     
  7. Christopher67

    Christopher67 Member

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    Firstly....

    The operations of the Regia Marina were severely hampered by consistent German refusals, despite the promises, to deliver fuel in sufficient quantities, and I quote...

    "German non co-operation in this matter was more than a little the fault of the obsession of the German High Command with the Eastern Front, and also with Rommel's continuous attacks on the Regia Marina for it's "inefficiency" in delivering troops and supplies to Africa! Though an ally protecting a common interest, the Regia Marina had to 'sweat' for every ounce of fuel received by them from the Germans! A truly remarkable situation."

    And that's not all....Rommel's "continuous" attacks due to "inefficiency"?....(I quote again)

    "The Italians believed that a large number of very small convoys would be more efficient than a few very large ones. It was held that smaller convoys would be less likely to be detected and would be easier to defend with one or two escorts. In addition, it was well known that port facilities in Libya were limited and that Tobruk, the port closest to the fighting, was frequently subject to air-raids, and that it would be impractical to have more than the minimum amount of shipping there at any one time.

    As a result, some 1,210 convoys were sent to Libya during the western desert fighting.
    These comprised 2,249 cargo ships of 500 tons or more and 1,213 escort vessels.
    Thus, the average convoy contained 1.7 cargo vessels with 170.5 men aboard and 1,855.7 tons of supplies and escorted by 1.5 warships.(usually destroyers, destroyer escorts, or ocean MTBs)
    Of course, in reality, vital cargoes went through heavily escorted, while there were times when vessels could go through un-escorted. Still, the basic point is clear...the Italians emphasized the "small" convoy...


    In any event, as experience in the battle of the Atlantic proved....they were WRONG.

    The cost of this error was enormous.

    Roughly 44% of Italy's merchant tonnage was lost through to December of 1942., including all vessels of 500 tons and more available to them during the war (roughly 173% of the total tonnage available on June 10, 1940). Most of the losses occurred on the Libyan route, although exact figures are unobtainable. The loss of the chief escort types (destroyers, destroyer escorts and ocean MTBs) comprise fully 67.8% of the total lost to military action. In addition, a large number of regular MTBs and auxiliary types were also lost on duty.

    Fortunately for the Axis, these staggering losses were relatively ineffective....

    Some 2,345,381 tons of cargo were loaded onto Italian ships for shipment to Libya during the war. Of this total, and in spite of the often heavy losses to escorts, only 14% or 315,426 tons were actually lost.
    Some 206,402 men were embarked in Italian vessels, often warships, for transport to Africa during the war, of whom 17,204 or 8.5% failed to arrive at their destination. A large proportion of these men were, in fact, rescued and reached the front anyway. It is of course, important to note, that these figures do NOT include men and material transported in German controlled vessels nor do they reflect the limited but useful German airlift capability.

    The ratio of escort losses to cargo losses(1 to 4.5) is very enlightening and an important datum to revealing why (even though the central Med was very 'hot' for Axis vessels) why such a high proportion of men and materials reached Africa unscathed.
    The answer lies in the psychological makeup of the Italian seamen and the British seamen and airmen.
    Usually when a British warship or aeroplane encountered a convoy it invariably attacked the ESCORT...
    This was probably due to the Royal Navy's aggressive theories of naval warfare and the Royal air Force's desire to win the war singlehandedly...

    Killing escorts was an important contribution to the war effort...

    But impeding supplies to Rommel was more so.....

    As a result of this attitude, what usually happened was that as soon as the attacking British warships or aircraft were sighted, the Itallian escort commander would order up their escorts and scatter the cargo ships. The escorts would put up a fight and the attacking ships would invariably "take the bait" and go after them. These escorts were almost always sunk after a ferocious running fight which usually permitted most of the cargo vessels, but not all, to escape.

    This tenacity often surprised the British commanders, who had been firmly nourished on a considerable amount of propaganda to the contrary about the "poor" fighting qualities of the Regia Marina.

    The net result was that the bulk of men and materials assigned to North Africa were, in fact, reaching their destinations...."

    Alfred A. Nofiā€¦."The Mediterranien War at Sea"
    (unquote)

    So much for Rommels constant "blather" concerning his supply difficulties. The Regia Marina could not be responsible for the flippant manner in which those supplies were expended....



    .
     
  8. Christopher67

    Christopher67 Member

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    "Hitler allowed Rommel to attend situation conferences, invited him to dine and gave him information, all of which made him appear specially priveliged. He explained to Rommel the theory of co-operation between panzers and assault troops and stuka dive bombers, and showed him how quick victories would prevent the enemy from seizing the tactical and strategic initiative. I had the impression that Rommel soaked up avidly the Fuhrer's every word."
    ......Hitler's Valet, Heinz Linge from his book "With Hitler to the End"....describes the extent of Rommel's "staff training"

    "Rommel would often give extremely unclear bulletins on the days movements. In other words, he veiled them from headquarters, sometimes for days, only to report an entirely changed situation. Hitler liked Rommel personally, but could ill brook this kind of conduct."
    Albert Speer....from "Inside the Third Reich"

    "Rommel has gone off his head in Afrika..."
    General Franz Halder

    "Foolhardy"
    Luftwaffe General Albert Kesselring, describing Rommel's advance into Egypt after the fall of Tobruk.

    "The Fuhrer knows what's best for us"
    Rommel, in a pre-war letter to his wife, " Lu".

    Was the Desert Fox an honest soldier or just another Nazi?
    Website showing modern German view of Rommel
     
  9. Christopher67

    Christopher67 Member

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    anyhow, it was a good read, even if it was self serving propaganda that Goebbels would have been proud of.....
     

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