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Author Topic: 12 FEB 1941: ROMMEL ARRIVES IN AFRICA  (Read 270 times)
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« on: February 11, 2019, 10:13:32 pm »

In 1940, Benito Mussolini began a series of military adventures intended to play 'tit for tat' with his axis partner Adolf Hitler, who had invaded Poland and and launched a series of attacks in western Europe [Denmark, Norway, the Low Countries, and France] without so much as a 'by your leave', or a "heads up" to the Italians. Unlike, the aforementioned German campaigns, Mussolini's were largely a failure. so much so that the Germans were dragged into the Balkans and Greece after the Italian attack on the latter resulted in the Italians not only being stopped in Greece, but  driven half way out of Albania. [See: "Operation Punishment", 'PzLdr History Facts' Archive, p.1].

And then there was North Africa. Mussolini achieved temporary success in East Africa against the British. But a massive invasion of Egypt by an army led by Marshal Rudolfo Graziani in the autumn of 1940 ground to a halt 60 miles inside the border, where Graziani, an imbecile if ever there was one, decided to erect a victory column to celebrate his 'spectacular' feat of arms. And then the British struck.

Operation compass was commanded by LTG Richard O'Connor, under the direction of the theater commander, Gen. Wavell. By mid-December, the British broke through the Italian lines. By the beginning of 1941, they had taken Tobruk and Benghazi, bagged most of the Italian army, and stopped to refit when they reached El Agheila at Mersa al Brega.

At that point, despite the imminence  of BARBAROSSA, Hitler felt compelled to assist the Italians with a little 'backbone. The backbone was to consist of two German Panzer divisions, Luftwaffe units and support troops. The Italians kicked in an armored Corps of two divisions.

The man Hitler chose to command this force, the Deutsches Afrika Korps, was a two star general, named Erwin Rommel.

Rommel had been one of the most successful junior officers of WW I, serving in France, Romania, and Italy. It was in Italy, at the battle of Caporetto that Rommel won the Pour le Merite by capturing the linchpin to the Italian defensive line, Mt. Matajur,along with 90 Italian generals, and 9,000 enemy soldiers.

Rommel came to Hitler's attention through a book Rommel wrote called "Infanterie Greift An!", or "On Infantry Attacks", a distillation of his lectures at various war academies, based on his WWI experiences. As a result of Hitler reading the book, Rommel commanded the "Fuehrer Begleitbattalion" [the security force provided by the Army] in Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland.

It appears, at that point, Hitler liked Rommel. Rommel was different than many German generals. He wasn't Prussian, he was a Wurttemburger. He was not a product of the General Staff [He never applied for it, having developed a loathing for staff work in his last assignment - a staff assignment -  in the last year of WW I.

So in 1940, Hitler gave Rommel command of the 7th Panzer Division during Case Yellow. Rommel was the first to cross the Meuse, and he led most of the way to the channel.He captured Cherbourg, moving 100 miles in half a day. He led the breakout for the second phase of the invasion of France, and broke the French line in doing so.

And in 1941, Hitler turned to Rommel again. Ahead lay see saw warfare across Libya and Egypt. Rommel would eventually be promoted to Field Marshal [at the time, the youngest in the German Army]. And he would become a legend to both his own troops, and the enemy's - "The Desert Fox". But on February 12th, 1941, as he stepped ashore at Tripoli, that was all in the future.

You can get more with a smile, a handshake and a gun than you can with a smile and a handshake - Al Capone
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