To begin, I will address my own opinion on this topic. I would personally disagree with the assertion that modernity and progress are always good. However, I think you could define both of these things as typically good, especially when relating to social relations. To explain a bit more, here’s an example. I believe the progress of the civil rights movement was not just good, but great. I believe we still have a ways to go before we reach equality for everyone in this country, so progress there is undoubtedly good. However, modernity can and will destroy great civilizations and great countries. Take, for example, feudal Japan. A great civilization in its time, it was destroyed by western traders bringing modernity, in both morals and in warfare. This led to the rise of Imperial Japan, which as we know was a brutal fascist state by 1939 and the start of the second world war.
On the topic of Marx, I believe he would disagree with me. Marx was a firm believer in societal progress, and as such I do not think he would find the same issues with the progress that I do. The fall of feudal Japan would be not a tragedy to Marx, but a victory. While yes, Japan was infused with western values and economics, it was now also exposed to the uptick of Marxist and Communist thought. On page 193 of the Communist Manifesto, Marx speaks of the Christian wave that overcame the Pagan religions, and then of the 18th century, when rationalist ideas began to overcome the Abrahamic values that had prevailed for so long. He then speaks of how the social consciousness of “past ages”, despite their variety, still move between the same general ideas, something which cannot be overcome without the disappearance of class struggles (this statement begins on page 193 and continues to 194).
Personally, I am not a supporter of Marx. While I think his highlights of class struggles are in no way incorrect, he puts forward a solution that has proven impossible. While the uprisings in Russia were mostly Leninist, rather than Marxist, the theory remains the same. While I am sure this is not a popular opinion, I believe socialism and communism in their true, Marxist forms are both unsustainable and unachievable. They result only in totalitarianism and death for the men and women under them. Marx’s views of progress and economics are quite radical, and this is why, at least personally, I cannot get behind Marx.
On the ideas of Weber, I think we (Weber and I), agree much more. Weber was a bourgeois liberal, a capitalist. Weber’s views on progress, I believe, align far more to mine, as he recognized the damage to liberalism that the bureaucratization of society was bringing on. Personally, I like Weber far more. As an economic liberal, and a capitalist myself, I find myself looking with some bias at Weber and Marx. Thus I find it necessary to speak to the respect I have for both men. I think of Marx, as shown in this essay, far more critically than I think of Weber. This is due almost entirely to my economic theory, and I think it is important thus that I state that I agree with the assessment of Marx as an outstanding man. His ideas have changed the world, and very much for the better. Though I will continue my disagreement with Marx himself and with many of his ideals, as Communism is certainly not a viable system in any form, I must respect him for daring to stand for an opinion against the powerful majority.
Communism itself would be another good thing to address here. Communism is one of those ideologies that sound great on paper, but the long-term and, with Communism, even the short-term viability can be easily called into question. One of the best known Communist theories is the re-distribution of wealth, or in simpler terms, to take wealth from the "bourgeoisie" (the ruling Capitalist class) and distribute it equally among the "proletariat" in order to achieve economic equality. Ignoring the many glaring holes in this plan, we should simply address one. I believe in the necessity of hierarchy, socially and economically. Take, for example, a flight of stairs with three landings. One may believe that if we have, say, three people on this flight of stairs, they should all reside on the second landing, or in economic terms, the middle class. This would be economic equality. However, this is not true of our society now. We would have one man on the third landing (the "bourgeoisie"), one man on the second, and one on the first (the "proletariat"). This, of course, is not an accurate model in terms of proportion, but for the purposes of the example, there will be only three.
Now, to change these stairs by true Marxist theory, one must move one down to move one up (ie, the man from the second must be moved down to move up the man from the third). This is how economic re-distribution works, and ascends through seizing another's wealth and using it as one's own. Give a Marxist the chance to "fix" these stairs under these rules and his answer would be simple, all three would end up on the second landing. However, there is a fault in this system. With everything state-owned, these men will never make money. They are confined to this landing, this "class", for the rest of their lives. Communism has done the inevitable, and trapped them on these stairs.
However, under a Capitalist system, these rules no longer apply. One may make money without the need to seize the wealth of others. Under a true free-market capitalist system, all of these men have the chance to ascend the stairs and to reach the top, and are not confined to their "class". Herein lies the problem with Marxist theory, the idea that in a laissez-faire system, one is confined to their own class. This is false, and this is why communism cannot be successful, for it contradicts itself, and on many levels beyond the one I have laid out in this essay.
To conclude, I challenge you Marxists who have made it this far to reflect on the viability of your own plans. Think critically of your own idealogy for a change, ask yourself if you can honestly say your plans for "class struggle" and "wealth inequality" are viable in a free society, and, most importantly, ask yourself if you would wish to be confined to the stairs, on the second landing for the rest of your life, or if you would wish to ascend them, and reach the top.
During WW1, Rommel fought on the Western Front in France, as well as the Romanian and Italian Campaigns. He was a very successful officer, leading his troops to many victories. For his actions in 1914 and 1915, he was awarded the Iron Cross, Second Class. In September 1915, Rommel was promoted to Oberleutnant (Senior Lieutenant) and made the company commander of the newly formed Royal Wurttemberg Mountain Battalion. In 1917, Rommel and his unit were involved in the Battle for Mount Cosna. They took the heavily fortified objective after a two-week-long uphill struggle.
Next, Rommel’s unit was assigned to the Isonzo front, a mountainous region in Italy. Here, Rommel put on a show of his tactical genius, during the Battle of Caporetto. Rommel’s battalion, 150 men strong, was put to the task of capturing enemy positions on three different mountains. In just two days, Rommel’s battalion captured 81 guns and 9,000 men, while only losing six to death and 30 to wounds. He achieved this by using the mountainous terrain to outflank the Italian forces, attacking from unexpected directions and attacking even when he was given orders not to. In one instance, the Italian forces believed their lines had collapsed and surrendered after only a brief firefight. Here, Rommel pioneered infiltration tactics, a far more mobile style of maneuver warfare than the trench warfare common in WW1. This style of warfare would be adopted by the German Army, and, later, by other foreign forces.
However, Rommel’s true tactical genius was yet to be revealed. Almost a month after his division’s successes in the Italian mountains, Rommel led the force tasked with capturing the town of Longarone. Here, he continued with his signature style of using a smaller force and attacking from unexpected directions. The Italian forces in Longarone, 10,000 strong, were convinced (thanks to Rommel’s strategy) that they were surrounded by an entire German Division and surrendered to Rommel’s much smaller force of men. For his actions in the Italian mountains, Rommel was awarded the Pour le Mérite, a German order equivalent to the American Medal of Honor, our highest order of achievement. In January 1918, Rommel received his third promotion in 4 years. He was made a Hauptmann (Captain) and given a staff position with the XLIV Army Corps. He served for the remainder of the war in this position.
During the interwar period, Rommel was one of the few German soldiers to actually stay in the newly formed Reichswehr (the Weimar Republic’s army), since the army had been reduced to 100,000 men, the navy restricted almost as badly, and the air forces banned by the Treaty of Versailles. He carried out several different kinds of operations throughout the interwar period, including garrisons and putting down pro-communist revolutions. He often put down revolutionary forces seizing towns without firing a shot, a stark contrast to his more forceful actions in restoring order in the 32nd Internal Security Company.
Rommel took the time during the interwar period to write Infantry Attacks, a book detailing his experiences in WW1. He was an instructor for a time, first being appointed to the Dresden Infantry School and being promoted to Major before he was assigned to the 3rd Jäger Battalion and promoted to Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant Colonel). This battalion was stationed in Goslar. More than a year after obtaining this post, he would meet Adolf Hitler for the first time, on September 30th, 1934. In 1935 he was transferred again to an instruction role, this time being appointed at the War Academy in Potsdam. This time period is when he wrote Infantry Attacks, to be published in 1937.
Hitler and Rommel’s relationship began in earnest on the 23rd of August, 1939, when Hitler made Rommel (now a Major General), the commander of the Führerbegleitbataillon, Hitler’s personal bodyguard for the invasion of Poland, which began on the 1st of September, 1939. He likely did not understand Hitler’s true plans with Poland (those being a war, of course), and he predicted a peaceful settlement of tensions all the way up to the Gleiwitz Incident (Hitler’s pretense for the invasion).
During the Invasion of Poland, Rommel accompanied Hitler to daily war briefings and took a sincere interest in the campaign. On the 26th of September, he returned to Berlin to set up a new headquarters for the Führerbegleitbataillon in the Reich Chancellery. He did, however, return to Warsaw briefly in October, after the German victory in Poland, to help prepare for a German victory parade.
Rommel was finally given a chance to prove himself in February 1940, when he was given command of the 7th Panzer Division. He had never commanded mechanized or armored forces before, but he quickly proved to be a natural in the tactics involved. His experience with mobile tactics in WW1 also provided a solid base for his usage of tanks. As soon as he took command, Rommel began training his troops in the maneuvers he would use with great success in the French campaign.
Three days after the invasion began, Rommel, Heinz Guderian, and Georg-Hans Reinhardt reached the River Meuse, only to find that the bridges had been destroyed already. Rommel was part of the forward areas, and directed the efforts to cross the river, made difficult by French suppressive fire. Rommel's solution was to bring up tanks and flak guns to return fire and to set nearby houses alight as a form of a smokescreen. He then sent the infantry across in rubber boats. Once he crossed, Rommel continued his campaign of thoroughly shattering the allied forces in the area, in one case taking 10,000 prisoners while only losing 36 of his own men. Rommel would continue this devastating campaign all the way to the English Channel, sometimes getting so far ahead that the German High Command lost track of his unit’s whereabouts. These events lead to the 7th Division being named the “Ghost Division”.
Before I jump into the complex set of battles that was the North African campaign, I believe it is necessary to establish a background for why all these Europeans were fighting in Libya. In 1881, a period of History began known as New Imperialism. This period involved European colonial powers (such as Britain and France) invading and colonizing many nations on all continents of the world, usually for the natural resources that these nations offered them. Part of this was known as the “Scramble for Africa”, which lasted until 1914 and the start of the Great War (WW1). This “Scramble for Africa” was a major cause in creating the extreme tensions among European powers that led to WW1. The Treaty of Versailles saw the Germans lose all of their colonial territories in Africa, but the Italians (being on the winning side of that war) maintained holdings in Libya and Somalia. It was here that Axis forces would be stationed, and eventually, where Rommel would arrive.
In February 1941, Rommel was appointed commander of the Deutsches Afrika Korps, a newly formed German unit intended to help Italian forces in Northern Africa. In the desert, Rommel was able to make his skills in maneuver very clear. Rommel was also a pioneer of coordination between different forces of the army, often using different divisions together to achieve maximum effectiveness, rather than sending equipment pell-mell to the nearest force that needed it. Rommel’s campaign in 1941 was very successful, however, an extended supply line and defeat at Tobruk resulted in him being pushed all the way back to El-Agheila.
Rommel’s campaign in 1942 was nothing short of amazing. After receiving 55 new tanks from the first undamaged convoy in months, Rommel launched his offensive, intended to capture the Suez Canal. He started off with a bang, capturing Agedabia, Msus, and Benghazi all in his first week, traveling over 150 miles. By the end of February, he was already near Tobruk, and by May he was fighting for it. Rommel captured Tobruk, the last holdout of Allied resistance in his previous campaign, and a symbolic symbol of allied defiance, on June 21, 1942. Six days later his troops captured Mersa and advanced on El-Alamein. His plan was to advance through Africa, up through the Allied colonies in the Middle East, and eventually, to link up with the German troops fighting on the Eastern Front by pushing through the Caucasus mountains, in the southern regions of the Soviet Union.
The Deutsches Afrika Korps, now called Panzergruppe Afrika, arrived at El-Alamein on June 29th but did not begin to attack until July. On July 1st, the First Battle of El-Alamein began. It was a devastating battle for both sides, with neither gaining the upper hand. German attacks were repelled and Australian attacks were repelled. However, the Germans were plagued by terrible supply issues the entire campaign, and these came back to haunt them at the worst time.
With the situation looking dire, Rommel fell back on his favorite style of attack, using the bulk of the forces in flanking maneuvers, while the rest launched a frontal attack. Rommel chose to use the flanking forces at Alam el Halfa. From the beginning, it was a failed operation. Due to low fuel, Rommel was completely incapable of flanking the heavily fortified position, and on the 2nd of September, decided the best option to withdraw.
Because of these absolutely devastating defeats, and with Axis supply problems only worsening, Rommel was forced to take a defensive posture for the Second Battle of El-Alamein. His position was fortified by a minefield. Rommel was on medical leave for a period, but when his second-in-command, Georg Stumme, suffered a heart attack while inspecting the troops, Rommel was forced to return to Africa. Rommel began the battle with just 150 tanks to the Allied 800. While Rommel was successful in his attacks with these tanks, the number quickly dropped to 35, and Rommel decided to withdraw.
Rommel sent this order to German High Command, and received a response back from Hitler himself, demanding that Rommel stand his ground and that Panzergruppe Afrika fight to the last
man. Rommel would initially follow this order, but upon further consideration, he decided it would be madness to obey. However, by the time he had made that decision, it was too late to save any non-motorized troops, as British tanks had begun to encircle them. Rommel was driven back across Africa, eventually leaving on the 9th of March, two months before the troops surrendered to the Allies. From this point onward, Rommel’s relationship with the High Command and Hitler himself became frosty at best. This deterioration would eventually prove fatal for the great German commander.
There are two reasons why I consider Africa such an important conflict. The first is that it provided the stepping stones for American power. I concluded in one of my previous projects (D-Day) that WW2 as a whole was the great causation for the rise of American power, but when you look deeper, Africa was the truest and deepest reasoning behind this rise to power. It marked the final slip of the British as they fell from the world's greatest power to a secondary power (not only to America but to the world). In contrast, it provided the first feet on the American path to greatness in the world.
The second is that it marked a shift in the tactics of combat around the world. The tactics not of the British, nor of the Americans, nor of the French, but of Rommel mark, yet again, the first steps to a new age. His revolutionary use of mobile tactics was the true death sentence to line combat (which was personified on a larger scale with the trench warfare of the Great War), and his logistical genius was second to but a select few Allied commanders (chief among said commanders was Dwight D. Eisenhower, who would later become President). Our current military doctrines call for tactics inspired by, if not simply taken from, Rommel. We owe the modernization of our militaries to Rommel and the High Command, though personally I doubt any soldier would be happy to admit that. His only true adversary, George Patton, drew from his own tactics from his own book.
While commanders such as Field Marshal Heinz Guderian may have been the first theorists of Blitzkrieg, Rommel was the first commander to truly perfect it. He was also its greatest influence, the perfect battlefield of the desert giving him and his troops a chance to perfect these ideas of a “lightning war”, and he used this to great effect. These battles were a grand influence on not only the later war but to tactics and strategy in general.
Rommel’s campaign across Africa is remarkable to follow. Watching his constant forward progress all the way to El-Alamein is stunning, and almost as much so, following his swift retreat to Tunisia, with Allied forces closing in. Rommel would never return to Africa, though he would defend against the D-Day invasion, and would be implicated in a plot to kill Hitler (his involvement, of course, is highly debated) and forced to commit suicide by cyanide. To keep up morale, the true circumstances of Rommel’s death were hidden from the public, he was celebrated as a war hero and given a state funeral. The official cause of death was Allied pilots strafing Rommel’s staff car, making Rommel a martyr for the Nazi cause.
Rommel never was a Nazi. He carried out a clean war, refusing orders to execute POWs and refusing to allow SS divisions to kill Jewish soldiers they had captured. Rommel even refused a request by British South African troops to be segregated from their African comrades. Rommel refused to join the SS or the Nazi party, though he did greatly benefit from their propaganda. Though Rommel had a close relationship with Hitler, he seemingly never realized Hitler’s true intentions for the Jewish people, though he undoubtedly became more disillusioned about Hitler in the later years, as the Nazi leader descended into a state of even further madness. Rommel’s involvement in the July 20th plot to kill Hitler is debatable, however, fully possible. Rommel was first and foremost a Wehrmacht Soldier. He fought for Germany and frequently ignored his oath to Hitler. I believe it’s very likely he was aware of the plot, at the very least, and did nothing to stop it. This is just one of the many unanswered questions of the Nazi rule.
In conclusion, the life of Field Marshal Rommel is an odd one, but an interesting one. His pioneering tactics nearly led the Axis forces to a victory greater than any alternate-history author has yet to imagine, his ambitious plans carried out in full each and every time he was properly equipped to take them on. His chivalry on and off the battlefield, his respect for his fellow soldiers, be they Allied or Axis, shone through in the horrors of the Second World War and combined, form a picture of a great man.
He rose from the ranks of the German commoners and peasants and crawled to the top of the chain, where he would eventually become one of history’s greatest military leaders. It is worth considering, what could he have done if he had been given the proper supplies to carry out his North African Campaign? Had he been able to execute his highly ambitious plan with the Caucuses, would the Eastern Front have again turned to the favor of the Nazi regime? Even the greatest alternate history authors have failed to imagine these outcomes, and would they not make an Axis victory far more likely? I will leave you with that consideration.
Fraser, David. Knights Cross: a Life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. HarperPerennial, 1995.
Hoffman, Karl. Erwin Rommel, 1891-1944. Brasseys, 2004.
Rommel, Erwin. Attacks. Athena Press, 1979.
Rommel, Erwin, and Manfred Rommel. The Rommel Papers. Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1953.
Atkinson, Rick. An Army at Dawn. Vol. 1, Henry Holt and Co., 2002.
Atkinson, Rick. The Guns at Last Light. Vol. 3, Abacus, 2013