Larry Slawson received his master's degree at UNC Charlotte. He specializes in Russian and Ukrainian history.
Erwin Rommel: Biographical Details
- Birth Name: Johannes Erwin Eugen Rommel
- Date of Birth: 15 November 1891
- Place of Birth: Heidenheim, Wurttemberg, German Empire
- Date of Death: 14 October 1944 in Herrlingen, Wurttemberg, Nazi Germany (52 Years of Age)
- Cause of Death: Death by Suicide
- Place of Burial: Cemetery of Herrlingen
- Spouse(s): Lucia Maria Mollin (Married in 1916)
- Children: Manfred Rommel (Son); Gertrud Stemmer (Daughter)
- Father: Erwin Rommel Senior (1860 – 1913)
- Mother: Helene von Lutz
- Siblings: Helene Rommel; Karl Rommel; Gerhard Rommel
- Occupation: German Officer; Commanded 7th Panzer Division, Afrika Corps, Panzer Army Africa, Army Group Africa, Army Group B
- Military Awards and Honors: Iron Cross (First Class); Pour le Merite; Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds.
- Nickname: “The Desert Fox”
- Best Known For: One of the most popular generals of World War II; Led German Army to numerous victories in North Africa; Involved in a plot to overthrow Hitler.
- Highest Rank Achieved: Field Marshal
Quick Facts About Rommel
- Johannes Erwin Eugen Rommel was born on 15 November 1891 to Erwin Rommel Sr. and his wife Helene. Rommel’s father served as a teacher and school administrator, whereas his mother was the daughter of a local government official. Rommel’s father served as a lieutenant in artillery. Following in the footsteps of his father, young Rommel joined the local 124th Wurttember Infantry Regiment as an ensign in 1910 (At the age of 18). After studying at Danzig’s officer cadet school, he later graduated in November 1911 and gained a commission as a Lieutenant, where he was assigned to the 124th Infantry. Later, in 1914, Rommel was assigned to the 46th Field Artillery Regiment as a battery commander but later returned to the 124th once World War I began. It was at cadet school that Rommel also met his wife, young Lucia Maria Mollin, whom he married in 1916.
- During the First World War, Rommel fought in the French, Romanian, and Italian Campaigns. He became well known for his ability to rapidly advance his men with the aid of heavy covering fire. Rommel experienced his first taste of war on 22 August 1914 as a platoon commander near Verdun. For his abilities and actions, Rommel was awarded the Iron Cross, Second Class, and was later promoted to First Lieutenant, where he then served in the Royal Wurttemberg Mountain Battalion of Alpenkorps (September 1915) as company commander. By the end of the war, Rommel had been wounded three times; once in the thigh, once in the left arm, and once in his left shoulder. Despite these injuries, Rommel was able to win Germany’s highest military honor (the Pour le Merite) before the war’s end, after leading a surprise attack on Italian troops at Mount Matajur.
- After the First World War, Rommel remained in the army and served as an infantry commander in the army of Weimar Germany. He also served as an instructor at the Dresden Infantry School and authored a tactics manual entitled “Infanterie Greift An (“Infantry Attacks”). Before he could complete his third book (concerning armored warfare), Germany entered World War Two with the invasion of Poland.
- Hitler placed Rommel in charge of the 7th Panzer Division in early 1940. Rommel used many of the same tactics he had developed for infantry attacks for his tank division. During the later invasion of France, Rommel’s forces moved so quickly against the French Army that his unit became known as the “Ghost Division.” Neither British nor French forces were able to keep up with Rommel’s exact location due to his unit’s speed and swiftness. Without a doubt, Rommel played a key role in Nazi Germany’s rapid takeover of France. For his victories, Rommel was quickly dispatched to North Africa to aid Italian allies and was quickly promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General.
Quick Facts (continued)
- Rommel quickly went on the offensive in North Africa, turning the tide of the war in Germany’s favor as he won victory after victory against British forces across Libya and Egypt. It was here that Rommel earned his nickname, “The Desert Fox,” by the British Press for his slyness and ability to take his enemy by surprise.
- After the entry of American forces in World War Two, Rommel was reassigned to Europe in 1943, where he was placed in charge of coastal defenses for the inevitable Allied invasion of Europe. With nearly 1,600 miles of Atlantic coastline to patrol, Rommel ramped up fortifications, ordered the flooding of coastal lowlands, and incorporated the use of barbed wire, landmines, and steel girders across many of Europe’s beaches. Rommel also tried, in vain, to strategically position tank divisions throughout Western Europe to prevent the Allies from establishing a bridgehead. However, Hitler and officers from the military high command overruled Rommel’s plans and kept the majority of his tanks inland. Had Rommel been allowed to follow his instincts, the war in Europe may have been far bloodier for the Allies than what occurred.
- Despite Rommel’s steadfast commitment and devotion to the military, he became a harsh critic of Hitler and the Nazi regime as World War Two began to intensify. Although Rommel initially supported Hitler in his early years, Rommel later came to despise the Fuhrer and his policies. On numerous occasions, Rommel began to refuse direct orders from Hitler. In particular, Rommel refused to round up Jews for deportation, and also refused to execute Jews, captured enemy soldiers, and civilians. Instead, Rommel was well known for his proper treatment of POWs and wounded enemy soldiers, and ensured that they received food, water, and medical treatment promptly. Memoirs and eyewitness accounts also testify to Rommel’s commitment to bury enemy soldiers with full military honors.
- As the war continued with the Allies, Rommel penned numerous letters to Hitler concerning the atrocities of the SS against Jews and civilians. Rommel even confronted Hitler personally in 1944. For these actions against the Fuhrer, Rommel attracted the attention of an organization known as the “Black Orchestra” which was devoted to the overthrow of Hitler and the Nazi Party. Although Rommel detested Hitler, he feared that an assassination of the Fuhrer might lead Germany to civil war. Nevertheless, following the attempted assassination of Hitler on 20 July 1944 (at Hitler’s East Prussian Headquarters), the Gestapo was able to trace Rommel’s connections with the Black Orchestra. Rather than making the public aware of Rommel’s connection with the conspirators, however, the Gestapo offered Rommel the chance to commit suicide through cyanide poisoning. Doing so would be the only way to protect his personal image, his staff, and most importantly, his family from execution. Thus, on 14 October 1944, Rommel was taken to a spot in Herrlingen, Germany where he swallowed a cyanide capsule and died only minutes later; ending the career and life of one of Germany’s greatest military minds of the twentieth century. The Nazi press later claimed that Rommel (now a Field Marshal) was killed in action. His role in the conspiracy was not known until after the war ended in 1945.
Additional Facts About Rommel
- Although Rommel was implicated in the plot to kill Hitler with a briefcase bomb at his East Prussian Headquarters, historians remain unsure about the extent of Rommel’s involvement in the plot. Some historians believe that Rommel actually knew nothing of the bomb. Regardless of his involvement, however, Rommel remained committed in his later life to the removal of Hitler from power. This commitment, ultimately, cost the Field Marshal his life.
- Despite his career as a military leader, Rommel was described by many as extremely gentle, humble, and docile. He was also quite shy, and introverted. Rommel also earned a reputation (even amongst his enemies) for his chivalry. For this reason, British officers often referred to the North African campaign against Rommel as a “war without hate.”
- Before entering the military, Rommel initially wished to become an engineer due to his interest in mathematics. Poor grades, however, prevented the future Field Marshal from pursuing this career path. During his childhood, he even constructed a fully operational glider.
- Rommel was extremely committed to his family and wrote to them often throughout the war. During World War Two, Rommel’s famous plaid scarf was actually knitted by his daughter Gertrud.
- Unlike other officers, Rommel was committed to leading his men from the front lines and always chose to fight alongside them during engagements with the enemy. For this reason, Rommel earned a high level of respect from his men. Rommel expected this same behavior from his officers. Rommel was also highly attentive to the lives and well-being of his men and refused to sacrifice them needlessly.
“But courage which goes against military expediency is stupidity, or, if it is insisted upon by a commander, irresponsibility.”
— Erwin Rommel
Quotes by Erwin Rommel
- “Don’t fight a battle if you don’t gain anything by winning.”
- “In a man-to-man fight, the winner is he who has one more round in his magazine.”
- “The future battle on the ground will be preceded by battle in the air. This will determine which of the contestants has to suffer operational and tactical disadvantages and be forced throughout the battle into adoption-compromise solutions.”
- “But courage which goes against military expediency is stupidity, or, if it is insisted upon by a commander, irresponsibility.”
- “Anyone who has to fight, even with the most modern weapons, against an enemy in complete command of the air, fights like a savage against modern European troops, under the same handicaps and with the same chances of success.”
- "Sweat saves blood, blood saves lives, and brains save both."
- "The commander must be at constant pains to keep his troops abreast of all the latest tactical experience and developments, and must insist on their practical application. He must see to it that his subordinates are trained in accordance with the latest requirements. The best form of welfare for the troops is first-class training, for this saves unnecessary casualties."
- "War makes extremely heavy demands on the soldier's strength and nerves. For this reason, make heavy demands on your men in peacetime exercises."
- "A risk is a chance you take; if it fails you can recover. A gamble is a chance taken; if it fails, recovery is impossible."
- "Men are basically smart or dumb, and lazy or ambitious. The dumb and ambitious ones are dangerous and I get rid of them. The dumb and lazy ones I give mundane duties. The smart ambitious ones I put on my staff. The smart and lazy ones I make my commanders."
Erwin Rommel's Legacy
In closing, Erwin Rommel remains one of the most interesting figures to have emerged from the Second World War. His military brilliance coupled with his defiance of Hitler in latter years serves as a reminder that not all of Germany agreed with the policies of the Nazi regime. Even when faced with the prospect of certain death, Rommel chose to ignore directives by the Nazi regime and Hitler himself; particularly in their decisions regarding Jewish POWs and enemy combatants. As more and more documents are researched and compiled, it will be interesting to see what new facts can be learned about this fascinating figure of German history.
Suggestions for Further Reading
Butler, Daniel Allen. Field Marshal: The Life and Death of Erwin Rommel. Casemate, Reprint. 2017.
Mitcham, Samuel W. Desert Fox: The Storied Military Career of Erwin Rommel. Washington D.C.: Regnery, 2019.
Rommel, Erwin. Attacks. Athena Press. Edited by Lee Allen. 2011.
Read More From Owlcation
Wikipedia contributors, "Erwin Rommel," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Erwin_Rommel&oldid=888000373 (accessed March 17, 2019).
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Larry Slawson
Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on April 16, 2019:
Hello, Larry, these quick facts are very informative and educating. Specific numbers 7 & 8 are eye-opening to me. I had not read such in all my history lessons up to degree level. But as you said, it becomes public knowledge at the end of the war when the Desert Fox committed suicide.
I have added these facts to my knowledge bank today, and will always remember the same.
The Rommel's quote #7 I think is based on Niccolo Machiavelli's "The Prince." Thanks for sharing and enjoy the week.
Larry Slawson (author) from North Carolina on March 18, 2019:
@Eric Thank you my friend! I'm glad you enjoyed. Yeah, Rommel was a bit of a mystery to me as well. Before researching this topic, I actually knew very little about him.
Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on March 18, 2019:
Really cool. As weird as it sounds war should be honorable. I didn't know anything about Rommel. Another great article friend.
Larry Slawson (author) from North Carolina on March 18, 2019:
@Pamela Thank you so much! I thoroughly enjoyed writing this article. I learned quite a bit about Rommel as well. He is a really fascinating figure. Never realized until I wrote this that he disobeyed Hitler so much, or that he was strictly against the Holocaust and persecution of the Jews.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 18, 2019:
Larry, This is such an interesting article. I learned quite a lot about Rommel that I did not know. Thanks for sharing this excellent article.