It was 68 years ago in Ulm Germany that a car pulled up to the residence of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. In the car was the driver and two Generals dispatched by Hitler. Rommel was recuperating following being severely wounded in an air attack in Normandy on July 17th 1944.
Rommel was never a Nazi but like many Germans he believed Hitler’s promises and propaganda. As a division commander in France and as the commander of the troops sent to bail out Mussolini’s failed African adventure Rommel gained fame, earned rapid promotion and was a poster-child for Goebels’ propaganda machine. His fame also earned the resentment of many fellow officers who since he was not an officer of the General Staff regarded him with jealous envy and distain.
That was until he discovered the reality of Hitler’s promises as the troops of the Afrika Corps found themselves subjected to constant privation from lack of supply, air support and reinforcements. As commander of the Afrika Corps and the Panzer Armee Arfika he and his troops achieved amazing success against an enemy that was always better supplied and equipped and which had air and sea superiority. Battling the British as well as the political machinations of Mussolini and Germany’s Italian Allies as well as opponents in the German government such as Hermann Goering, Rommel saw his troops crushed under the press of the British as well as the Americans who landed in French North Africa. Eventually, sick and worn out he was sent back to Germany.
His honest assessments of the chances of the Germans winning the war which he spoke candidly to Hitler and the High Command made him persona non grata in Berlin and Berchtesgaden. In the time before he was posted to France in late 1943 he became a part of the plot to end the war and overthrow Hitler. Rommel’s Chief of Staff at OB West General Hans Speidel was a key man in the conspiracy and Rommel had contacts with a number of key conspirators. He believed that the war was lost unless his forces could repel the coming Allied invasion on the beaches. His recommendations for the deployment of Panzer Divisions where they could immediately counterattack were not taken. He was given command but not control of many important units which Hitler alone could release.
When the invasion came Rommel was away and sped back to Normandy. He fought a desperate battle against an Allied force. His outnumbered forces under constant assault from the land, sea and air received paltry reinforcements compared to the Allies. German troops inflicted many local defeats and exacted a heavy price in allied blood in Normandy. Many American infantry regiments suffered 100% casualties but remained in action because of a continuous stream of replacements. Rommel urged a withdraw before the allies broke through his front and found that he was now considered a defeatist.
He was wounded just days before the attempt on Hitler’s life which Hitler survived and exacted a terrible revenge on anyone connected with the plot. Show trials and public hangings of officers who had served valiantly at the front were common.Thousands were killed and thousands more imprisoned.
Eventually Rommel was identified with the plotters. He was recommended by the “Court of Military Honor” to be expelled from the military and tried by the “People’s Court” of Judge Roland Freisler. Because of his fame and popularity in Germany Hitler was decided to offer Rommel the choice of being tried by the People’s Court that was busily executing anyone suspected of disloyalty or committing suicide and ensuring his family’s safety. German military heroes were hauled before this court and humiliated by Freisler before they were sent to their deaths.
Rommel suspected that he would be identified and killed and told that to his friends and family leading up to the day that the staff car carrying Generals Wilhelm Burgorf and Ernst Maisel from OKW with the ultimatum. They met with Rommel for a short time before giving him the opportunity to say goodbye to his family. Rommel told them of his choice and left his home for the last time. 15 minutes later the Generals called his wife to say that he had died of a heart attack. Rommel was given a state funeral and the German people were lied to about his cause of his death.
Rommel was 52 when he died, the same age that I am now. I find in the story of Rommel some commonality in my own life. Before Rommel went to Africa he believed that Germany would win the war, during his command there he discovered that what he believed was lies and that Hitler had little regard for him or his troops. Before I went to Iraq in 2007 I believed much of the political propaganda about that war. I have written on this site numerous articles critical of that war and our current war in Afghanistan. Like Rommel I feel that our troops have been and are being sacrificed in a war that we have no chance of winning. We are saddled with an Afghan ally who we put in office, President Karzai who makes Mussolini look like a winner and does nothing to help our war effort, condemning our troops at every opportunity even as his own police and soldiers kill ours. Our troops do valiant and often heroic work and in spite of the terrible situation that could get worse of more war breaks out in Iran or Syria.