Previous posts in this discussion:
PostThe "Rommel Myth"; German Strategy in North Africa (Cameron Sawyer, Russia, 02/11/18 7:27 am)
I will have to disagree with just about every point my friend Istvan has made in his post of February 8th:
1. Istvan wrote that Rommel was the greatest German general of WWII. Rommel is a celebrity, due to the famous "Rommel Myth," widely studied by historians (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rommel_myth ), but being a celebrity is different from being a great military leader.
In fact, although Rommel's tactical brilliance is widely acknowledged and admired, Rommel never led a major military operation, and failed at what he did lead. Rommel's concrete failures of strategic judgement in North Africa are widely studied in military academies in the US and in Germany. See, for example, http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a397473.pdf .
Rommel was an attractive personality, at least as it was spun in the media of both sides--dashing, chivalrous, brilliant--a perfect figure for Nobel-prize winning literature or for "the Good German" mythology, or for the propaganda purposes to which Goebbels put him (sending a crowd of photographers to follow his every move), but as an actual military leader, Rommel was not worth the little finger of von Manstein, von Rundstedt, or von Bock, who actually were great military leaders, the greatest not only of Germany but of the whole war, and who unlike Rommel actually commanded millions of troops and fought the largest battles of human history. And sometimes even won!
Guderian also comes to mind, who was perhaps like Rommel also not a great strategist, but whose tactical brilliance exceeded even Rommel's. Military leadership was Germany's ace in the hole--an area in which the Allies were never their equal. But Rommel was a "party general"--a political and newsreel general, darling of Hitler, skilfully used by Goebbels.
2. Istvan stated that El Alamein was the first major defeat of the Germans. What? If we put aside the big question of whether El Alamein was even a major anything, how was it the first? The battle took place in November, 1942, almost a year after the German defeat in the Battle of Moscow and the failure of Operation Barbarossa, the largest strategic initiative of the whole war, to which Hitler allocated 3.8 million (!) troops, and suffered more than a million (!) casualties. So it's hard for me to understand--was that either not major, or not first? Or it was not a defeat?
3. Istvan claimed that eliminating Hitler's access to Middle East oil is strategically more important than even the destruction of Hitler's 6th Army at Stalingrad. Again--what? What "Middle East oil"? And what "access"? In 1942, the only major oil producer in the Middle East was Iran, producing about 8 million tonnes a year (compare this to the production of 25 million tonnes a year just in the Baku field; and the Ploesti fields produced about 6 million tonnes a year for the Axis).
Saudi oil had barely been discovered by that time and was not in large-scale production. Iran had a long border with the Soviet Union, and in 1942 was under occupation and firmly controlled by Soviets and British. So what kind of "access" to any kind of oil would victory in North Africa have given the Germans? And even if the Germans could have somehow gotten their hands on some Iranian oil, how would they transport it? They did not have the naval power to defend a fleet of oil tankers through seas dominated by the Royal Navy. In fact, the Germans had no naval power at all in the area aside from a few U-boats.
This business about "Middle East oil" is pure fantasy. The only word in Churchill's work about it is highly tentative, a quote from a letter from General Smuts without any comment by Churchill--"I believe possible German attempt to reach Iraqi oil through Syria may have also thus be thwarted" (The Hinge of Fate). If you study the German sources, you will see that the Germans had no such ideas. Hitler in fact had no strategic aims in North Africa at all, and no desire to be there, and it was never part of his plans. He considered the Mediterranean to be a strategic dead end.* Hitler didn't even start the conflict in North Africa-- that was Mussolini, with his Operazione "E". Mussolini's aim was to seize the Suez Canal to disrupt British supply and military traffic through the canal, and to eliminate threats to Italian colonies in Libya and Ethiopia, and to increase his power in the Mediterranean, where he dreamed of recreating the Roman Empire.
Mussolini got some support from German Admiral Erich Raeder, who unlike Hitler did have strategic ideas about North Africa, embodied in his "Mittelmeer-Plan" ("Mediterranean Plan"), which he had been pitching unsuccessfully to Hitler since 1940. The Mittlemeer-Plan has more clues to German strategic intentions in the South; again, it has nothing to do with oil and everything to do with beating down the British, cutting transport ties to British colonies, and reducing British power in the region.
An excellent summary of the German sources is this post from a German history forum:
"Hitler hatte nicht mehr und nicht weniger in Afrika vor als zu verhindern das sein neuer italienischer Bundesgenosse aus Afrika herausgeworfen wurde von den Truppen des Empire. Er war eigentlich sehr Unglücklich darüber in Afrika intervenieren zu müssen.
"Mussolini war mit der Einstellung 1940 in den Krieg eingetreten, dass Hitler den Krieg schon gewonnen habe und es nur ein wenig vergossenes italienisches Blut brauche, um mit am Tisch der Sieger bei Verteilung der Beute zu sitzen. Zwar wurde Frankreich besiegt, aber England weigerte sich zu kapitulieren. Unvorbereitet und schlecht motiviert verlangte Mussolini von seinen Generälen nun einen 'Parallelkrieg' ohne direkte Abstimmung mit Hitler gegen England. In Afrika marschierten die Italiener darauf hin wenig beeindruckend, aber propagandistisch wirkungsvoll in Ägypten ein. Sie gingen nicht weit vor und gruben sich sofort ein. Von Äthiopien aus, also weit abgeschnitten machte man ebenfalls keine großen Anstrengungen, sondern Besetzte geradezu die kleinen Gebiete der Alliierten am Horn von Afrika.
"Die Engländer waren weniger Unentschlossen. Rücksichtslos konzentrierten sie ihre Truppen und zerschlugen die weit größeren italienischen Heere zuerst in Äthiopien und dann an der ägyptischen Grenze. Sie eroberten die Cyrenaika und es machte den Anschein als ob Italien Afrika verlieren würde. Mussolini hatte Hitler immer aus seinem Parallelkrieg heraushalten wollen um nicht bevormundet zu werden. Nun stand ihm das Wasser bis zum Halse! Sein Abenteuer von Albanien (Kolonie) aus Griechenland zu erobern war ebenfalls gescheitert. Da musste er über seinen Schatten springen und um Hilfe bei Hitler nachsuchen damit er sein Gesicht nicht vollens verlieren würde. Widerwillig befahl Hitler das Afrikakorps aufzustellen. Der eigentlich als Kommandeur vorgesehene General verlangte eine stärkere Truppe, die Hitler nicht zulassen wollte. So bekam Rommel das Kommando.
"Noch 1941 wurden insgesammt 2 deutsche Panzerdivisionen nach Afrika gesendet. Das ist eine ganze Menge, denn Deutschland besaß zu diesem Zeitpunkt im Ganzen nur 21 Panzerdivisionen! Für einen Nebenschauplatz eine bedeutende Truppe, die Hilter lieber gegen die UdSSR eingesetzt hätte. Im Gegensatz zu anderen Kriegsschauplätzen gab es in Afrika aber keine deutsche Militärverwaltung oder gar Einsatzgruppen, weil es Mussolinis italienische "Spielecke" war. Der Part wurde also von Italienern übernommen. Durch deinen Atavar vermute ich das dir die Chose im Wesentlichen bekannt war"?
"Hitler had no more and no less in mind in Africa than to prevent his new Italian allies from being thrown out by troops of the Empire [I.e., the Brits]. He was actually very unhappy to have to intervene in Africa.
"Mussolini had the idea in 1940 when getting involved in the war that Hitler had already won, and that only a little Italian blood would be required, in order to sit at the table of the victors at the division of the booty [some German prejudice here!]. Indeed France had been defeated, but England refused to capitulate. Unprepared and unmotivated, Mussolini demanded of his generals only a ‘parallel war' without direct agreement with Hitler against England. In Africa, the Italians marched in consequence unimpressively, but propagandistically effectively in Egypt. They went in not too far and dug in immediately. From Ethiopia, that is far away, no one made any great effort, rather occupied exactly the small territories of the Allies on the Horn of Africa.
"The English were less indecisive. Without being nervous about it, they concentrated their troops and struck at the far greater Italian forces first in Ethiopia and then on the Egyptian border. They conquered the Cyrenaika, and it appeared as if the Italians were going to lose Africa. Mussolini had always wanted to keep Hitler out of his parallel war in order not to be patronized. But now the water was up to his neck! [German idiom literally translated]. His adventure of conquering Albania from Greece likewise failed. So now he had to jump over his shadow and ask for help from Hitler in order not to completely lose face. Against his own will, Hitler ordered the Afrika Korp to stand up. The general who was actually intended as commander demanded a stronger force, which Hitler did not want to grant. Thus Rommel got his command.
"Still in 1941 altogether 2 German Panzer divisions were sent to Africa. That's a whole lot, because Germany possessed at that time altogether only 21 Panzer divisions! For a side show [German - "Nebenschauplatz"] this was a significant force, which Hitler would have preferred to use against the USSR. In contrast to other theatres of war, there was no German military administration, because this was Mussolini's ‘playground'. The part was therefore taken over from Italians."
This excellently presents the German perspective on North Africa - the actual word "side show" is used, and here you can see and understand the strategic aims, which have nothing to do with fairy tales about "Middle Eastern oil." The Axis powers could never have used the Suez Canal for their own purposes--they had no naval power adequate to the task. Hitler intended to bring oil by land--even Iranian oil in case he managed to conquer Transcaucasia and push through to the Persian Gulf. The only interest the Axis powers had in the Suez Canal was in denying it to the British. The action in North Africa was fundamentally defensive in nature. Not only was "access to Middle East oil" not the most important strategic goal of the war, more important even than Stalingrad (!), it was not even a goal at all.
Here is another discussion by superbly well-informed people about the strategic goals of the German North African campaign: http://www.geschichtsforum.de/thema/rommel-nordafrika-feldzug-quellen.11452/ with many citations of primary sources.
The obsession with "turning points" and especially "One turning point" is an outgrowth of the drive to simplify and mythologize complex events. A great man, a bad man, a stupid man, a brilliant general, the crucial material, the greatest weapon, the turning point, blah, blah, blah--these are all memes of oversimplification and hero worship and fairy tale. WWII was an exceedingly large-scale event in human history, exceedingly complex and nuanced. Of course there was no one "turning point"--there were a number of crucial events which, had they gone the other way, would have had a great effect on what came afterwards.
So it's fun to talk about turning points, but let's not take them too seriously. We have heard about a number of different "turning points" in WWII--really significant events which might have changed things a lot had they gone the other way. The Battle of France, which made the Germans arrogant enough to think of such a suicidal nonsense as Barbarossa. The Battle of Midway (which was actually much more like a real "turning point" than any one thing that happened in Europe). Moscow, Stalingrad, Kursk. Pearl Harbor! Let's not forget. Without Pearl Harbor, there might not have been Lend Lease. These are all "crucial events," if not turning points. But El Alamein?
*"Hitler did not favour a major German effort in the South. This was not solely the result of ideological preoccupation with blood and soil in the East. The Mediterranean was a strategic dead-end . . . British unreasonableness ultimately raised the unpleasant prospect of a beleaguered Germany, exposed to Soviet encroachments from North Cape to the Dardanelles, dependent on Stalin for oil and other vital materials, and defending a far-flung perimeter against the vastly superior sea power of and growing air and ground strength of an Anglo-American coalition. . . . In the face of such far-flung perspectives, the Mediterranean was indeed of modest importance. In any event, practical difficulties stood in the way of Germany's intervention there. Hitler had repeatedly recognized the Mediterranean as Mussolini's sphere. At this point, he could scarcely invade it even to promote Axis efficiency and ‘help the Italians build their Mediterranean Empire'." (Mussolini Unleashed - 1939-1941, MacGregor Knox, Cambridge University Press).
JE comments: Excellent post, Cameron. According to Wikipedia, the Rommel Myth was hatched in part by Anglo-American efforts to justify rearming West Germany during the early Cold War. Rommel's "martyrdom" at the hands of Hitler made him an ideal candidate for canonization as a "Good German."
The "Rommel Myth," El Alamein, and Oil, Revisited
(Istvan Simon, USA
02/17/18 4:56 AM)
Cameron Sawyer (11 February) wrote that he disagrees with nearly every point I made in my February 8 post. It is perfectly OK to disagree. Yet I am not at all convinced by Cameron's arguments, so I will respond to his post also point by point.
1. On Rommel: I consider Rommel the best German general of World War II. It is ludicrous in my opinion to call his reputation a myth, as Cameron wrote, and most of what Cameron wrote, including the links he supplied, are nothing more than throwing dirt on a great man who does not deserve any of it.
I frankly do not care that other historians may have a different opinion. Neither they nor Cameron, nor anyone else, is the owner of the absolute truth in these matters, and this is ultimately a question of judgment that cannot be proved one way or the other. I make my own judgments, so while Cameron is welcome to submit evidence to the contrary, I have to accept that evidence as convincing, which I simply do not at this point. He can keep trying, though.
I do not rely on, nor do I need, the assessments of other historians who may have a different opinion. It seems frankly a bit bizarre and so unnecessary for Cameron to be so dismissive about a truly great man and general. His greatness goes beyond his military prowess which was extraordinary. It goes to the strength of his character, for example the greatness of his participation in the attempt to kill Hitler, which unfortunately failed, and led to him having to commit suicide on Hitler's orders, to save his family.
Montgomery defeated Rommel in North Africa, but he was not alone in this. For Rommel was not only defeated by Montgomery and his magnificent troops, he was aided in this victory by General Logistics and Alan Turing. Thanks to Alan Turing, Montgomery had perfect intelligence about Rommel's dire situation. And thanks to Turing again, all attempts to resupply him with tanks and fuel and spare parts failed as the ships carrying the supplies to him were sunk by the RAF. So even in his defeat in North Africa, it is highly unjust to blame him for the defeat. He was not to be blamed. He was brilliant to the end.
Second, it is untrue, and again so unnecessary, to say that Rommel was never in charge of any major campaign. Following his defeat in North Africa, Hitler put him in charge of the defense of the beaches of Normandy, and everywhere else where the Germans expected the immense Allied armada under General Eisenhower might strike. He did as always a brilliant job, proven by the thousands and thousands of white crosses of our boys left in France, the flower of our youth who were unfortunately killed in the battle of Normandy, trying to overcome Rommel's brilliantly organized defenses set up on the beaches, pillboxes with machine guns, myriad obstacles to our armored vehicles and tanks, and so on.
Wikipedia as usual has an excellent article on Rommel which mentions the so-called Rommel Myth that Cameron brought up. It disposes of quite a few of Cameron's unfair criticisms.
I agree with Cameron that Guderian was also a great German general, and like Rommel an honest and straightforward man. For Guderian was never afraid to tell Hitler directly to his face what he thought of his ideas, an honest and able man who told a hysterical megalomaniac what he thought, never intimidated into silence. For this he was sacked several times in his career, but history proved him correct in most cases.
I continue to be firmly on the side of Rommel, not only a great German General but also in my opinion a great man.
2. Battle of Moscow. Cameron states that the Germans were defeated almost a year before El Alamein in a much bigger battle than El Alamein at Moscow. In my opinion, he is wrong for several reasons. First the Germans were not defeated in the Battle of Moscow. They failed to take Moscow, but they came tantalizingly close. They did get to the outskirts of Moscow and the city was saved only by two factors: the truly heroic efforts of Zhukov and the civilian population who dug immense obstacles for the advancing German tanks, and the arrival of winter. So the Germans retreated under the subsequent pressure of Russian forces to reorganize and resupply their forces and wait for the thaw of spring to renew their attack.
Second, Moscow was not even an important target for Hitler, contrary to what Cameron stated. Here is a quote from the Wikipedia article on the Battle of Moscow:
"For Hitler, the Soviet capital was secondary, and he believed the only way to bring the Soviet Union to its knees was to defeat it economically. He felt this could be accomplished by seizing the economic resources of Ukraine east of Kiev. When Walther von Brauchitsch, Commander-in-Chief of the Army, supported a direct thrust to Moscow, he was told that 'only ossified brains could think of such an idea.' Franz Halder, head of the Army General Staff, was also convinced that a drive to seize Moscow would be victorious after the German Army inflicted enough damage on the Soviet forces. This view was shared by most within the German high command. But Hitler overruled his generals in favor of pocketing the Soviet forces around Kiev in the south, followed by the seizure of Ukraine. The move was successful, resulting in the loss of nearly 1,000,000 Red Army personnel by 26 September (killed, captured and wounded), and further advances by Axis forces."
It is also inaccurate to state that Hitler suffered a million casualties in the battle of Moscow. In any event, the number of casualties for Hitler were far lower than the Russian casualties. So, if casualties were the main criterion, Russia lost the battle, and nearly the whole war, in the initial very successful attack of the Nazis in Barbarossa.
3. Oil. Cameron insists on his absurd claims on oil and Middle Eastern Oil in particular. I am not quite sure why Cameron stubbornly clings to a bizarre thesis on this point.
I am not an oil specialist. When I wrote my initial assessment on this issue I relied merely on my general knowledge of what occurred in World War II as well as my own wits to interpret the strategic picture as I see it.
But it is not difficult to find data to support what I wrote. I hope this will force Cameron to concede that his views are just unsustainable and contradicted by the facts.
The following document has a massive amount of data on the worldwide production of vital resources in the decade before 1940. No doubt the next few years would present a slightly different picture, but nothing much changes really quickly in these matters, as major changes require major investments that happen only slowly. Even more slowly when war and fighting everywhere disrupts those investments.
The fragility of Cameron's arguments is exposed on page 131 on crude oil production. We see that for 1939 the worldwide production of crude oil was 285 million metric tons, 60% of it by the USA and Canada. 16,725,000 metric tons were produced by Middle Eastern countries, which is 5.9% of worldwide production. If we add other Asian countries excluding the Soviet Union, we get 26,745,000 metric tons, or 9.4% of worldwide production. This puts to rest Cameron's claims about oil, because the USSR's production including Baku was only slightly more at 29,530,000 or 10.4%.
Also note that this is still far below what was produced by the Caribbean nations and South America, which was 47.9 million metric tons, or 16.8% of the total.
In his enthusiasm for the Russian contributions to Hitler's defeat, Cameron also forgets the huge contributions of the RAF and US strategic bombing. For oil to be useful, it must be also refined and stored as gasoline and other by-products. Britain long recognized this, and directed a great deal of fire at disrupting supplies of oil products by bombing refineries, storage depots, etc. This strategic campaign of the Western allies was successful and was a major contributing factor to Germany's defeat. The following article sheds much light on this:
Now, this gives a fairly complete strategic picture of the oil situation. With The British and American navies dominating the Atlantic, where could Hitler get his oil? Because of this fact, 77% of oil production was off-limits to him: the oil produced in the Americas. The Soviet Union had been a major supplier of Germany's oil needs prior to Barbarossa. Thus to grab Baku was a natural objective to simply continue with the same supplier after he attacked Russia. Therefore Hitler ordered Edelweis, as Cameron pointed out. But failing Baku where could he get oil anyway? And the answer is Asia and the Middle East, which together produced nearly as much as the Soviet Union. I hope that Cameron will concede the logic of this exposition and analysis.
Cameron's arguments also fall apart and do not add up in other ways. If oil was unimportant as a motivation for the Nazi presence in North Africa, as he contends, why on Earth would Hitler have preciously scarce tanks deployed in Africa? He had the African Panzer corps there, an army that needed tanks, replacement parts, munitions, fuel and food, and trained Panzer crews with experience in tank warfare, a resource just as precious and difficult to get as fuel and other equipment. Why waste all of that in Northern Africa? Was he interested in the sand of the desert?
4. The German point of view. Cameron presents some views from a German on-line forum in his post. Even though he praised his source, he need not have used such an unnamed and therefore somewhat possibly unreliable one. The German point of view was exhaustively presented in the magnificent work The Rise and fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer. I read this book several times, because I believe that it is the most authoritative history book on the German point of view, as it was written by Shirer, who was a correspondent in Nazi Germany during the war, and who then studied the German archives exhaustively that had fallen into American hands with the defeat of Germany to write this excellent book. Quotes from German contemporary documents are presented throughout the work, just as well as copious extensive notes and references. Shirer also published his excellent Berlin Diary, which present his notes and recollections as an eyewitness in Nazi Germany from 1934 to1941.
Chapter 23 of Shirer's book is entitled "Barbarossa: The Turn Of Russia," and is a very thorough presentation of Hitler's attack on Russia including the preliminaries in Yugoslavia and Greece. Hitler issued his Top Secret Directive 21 on December 18, 1940, in which he ordered his armed forces to prepare to crush Soviet Russia in a quick campaign, thus well ahead of the actual events, which turned out to be not so quick after all.
Hitler's gaze towards North Africa was not merely for the oil resources of the region, but also because he wished to hit Britain any way he could, as the British Empire was dominant in Egypt and elsewhere in Africa. But it is significant that he did not attack the British, say, in South Africa, which is also so rich in natural resources, but rather in North Africa. (I ask Cameron, why?) There was also the prize of the French Navy in Oran, which Churchill was so worried about falling into Nazi hands that he ordered its destruction, coordinated with the United States in Operation Torch in November 1942, which overlapped with the end of the battle at El Alamein and was a second major blow to Hitler's ambitions. Hitler had wanted Vichy France's active participation in the war against Britain, and as enticement offered Petain what he did not have, territory from the British Empire that he envisioned would be taken.
Hitler wrote: (op cit.):
"The Axis Powers and France have an identical interest in seeing the defeat of England accomplished as soon as possible. Consequently, the French Government will support, within the limits of its ability, the measures which the Axis Powers may take to this end."
Petain gave Hitler plenty of dishonorable concessions at their meeting at Montoire, but overall Hitler was still dissatisfied. On the way back to Germany, he stopped at Florence to confer again with his ally Mussolini, on October 28, 1940. He did not mention to Mussolini that he would send troops to Romania, which Mussolini also coveted. When Mussolini discovered this a a few days later he was upset. He told Ciano:
"Hitler always faces me with fait accompli. This time I am going to pay him back in his own coin. He will find out from the newspapers that I have occupied Greece."
We see in these quotes the casualness with which the Fascist and Nazi dictators sent "messages" to each other with the rape and murder of other people's lands.
When Mussolini delivered on his promise, Hitler was furious. But as it often happened with Mussolini, his armies did not do so well in Greece. Within a week his "victory" turned into a rout. Italy's blunder, as Hitler called Mussolini's actions in Greece, endangered Germany's position in the Balkans. So he ordered his army to prepare to invade Greece through Bulgaria.
It would be fascinating and worthwhile to present here a summary of Shirer's whole chapter 23 on Barbarossa, but space and time limits me to just a few facts. But even with this tiny introduction that I just presented above, shows how things really happened, often without any grand design, but merely reacting to events as they unfolded.
On November 4, 1940 Hitler told his generals that he wanted to take Gibraltar from Britain. This was Operation Felix. It never happened because Franco did not buy it. The objective of driving Britain out of the Mediterranean may have been sound, but Raeder gave Hitler the bad news on November 14. Italy's blunder in Greece, Hitler was told, greatly improved Britain's strategic position in the Mediterranean. The admirals also told Hitler what Eugenio Battaglia won't like: that Italy did not know what the heck it was doing, and that its leadership both political and military was simply inadequate for the stated goals of Mussolini in the Mediterranean. The German Navy would have to do it. And here is the German point of view, that Cameron Sawyer won't like. For the Admirals told Hitler: (op. cit. page 818):
"The fight for the African area is the foremost strategic objective of German warfare as a whole. It is of decisive importance for the outcome of the war."
The next event that altered the war and Barbarossa, was the coup in Belgrade, which made it clear to Hitler that the German puppet that he wanted there would not fly in Yugoslavia. There were wild celebrations in Belgrade in which the crowd spat on the German minister's car, and so it was evident where their sympathies were. Hitler reacted with wild rage. On March 27, 1941, in a meeting with his generals, he raged about the revenge he would inflict on Yugoslavia. But his next decision really might have altered the whole outcome of the war. Because to extract his revenge on Yugoslavia, Hitler postponed Barbarossa by four weeks. Thus he gave General Winter four additional weeks to help the Russians. I already mentioned in this post how that was decisive in the Battle of Moscow. This may have been a major strategic blunder by Hitler, induced by his thirst for revenge (much like the reactions of our stupid narcissistic President, also prone to react to the latest event, or Tweet, rather than use better judgement). For the German military estimated that they would have needed three additional weeks to accomplish their goal of taking Moscow. General Winter hit them hard during those weeks that they now no longer had. This is not just my conclusion here. Germany's most able military leaders forever afterwards would blame this hasty and ill-advised decision of Hitler, a vain and infuriated man, for all the disasters that ensued.
Hitler took his revenge, though as we know Tito's partisans never gave him rest afterwards. Belgrade was razed to the ground. The little mustachioed madman did not take lightly provocations by a weaker power, and took full revenge. 17,000 civilians were killed by Hitler's rage and Goering's bombings. From Yugoslavia to Greece, and unfortunately Greece, who had so valiantly fought Mussolini, this time were defeated by the Germans. Mussolini was in trouble in Libya, and Hitler decided to help him out by putting Rommel there with the Africa corps.
Admiral Raeder told Hitler following Rommel's victories in North Africa that he should take advantage of the situation and that the possible collapse of the British Empire in North Africa was of major strategic importance. Once again, the German point of view does not support Cameron Sawyer's argument. Moreover, Churchill agreed with Raeder, for he pleaded with President Roosevelt that the USA needed to enter the war, because the possible loss of Egypt and the Middle East that Rommel was threatening, would be a huge strategic victory for Hitler.
I could continue, but I think for now, I have made my point. No Cameron, El Alamein was not a sideshow.
JE comments: Istvan Simon's long essay gives us a lot to chew on. At least, for starters, I hope we can agree that Germany was never in a position to invade South Africa. It simply had no navy to accomplish it. (Although remember the Madagascar Plan? It was a half-baked German scheme to imprison Europe's Jewish population on that island. The Nazis "shelved" it due to the British navy's supremacy, and the alternative to Madagascar was even more horrific.)
My moderator's job is to moderate, so here goes: Cameron Sawyer and Istvan Simon are not as much in disagreement as it seems. They concur that Germany entered North Africa to bail out the Italians, and that the battle for Moscow was a monumental clash. I would differ with Istvan on the significance of the casualties: the Russians suffered far more losses in most, if not all, the battles they won.
This leaves us with the question of oil. Was there, or wasn't there, significant oil production in North Africa in 1940? From the interesting data in Istvan's link above (through 1939), Egypt is the only nation with even a modest output. (Libya and Algeria were virtually nil.) In the Middle East, the only producers of significance were Iran and (less so) Iraq. (The Dutch East Indies/Indonesia was also a major producer in 1939, which explains Japan's interest in the region. I presume this is where Royal Dutch Shell got its start?)
Rommel and the July Plot: A Question for Nigel Jones
(John Heelan, UK
02/17/18 8:30 AM)
Perhaps WAISer Nigel Jones would care to comment on Rommel's role in the July 20 plot to assassinate Hitler (Project Valkyrie) and the Desert Fox's later suicide to protect his family?
JE comments: From Raj to Rommel: Nigel, we need you!
The index in my copy of Nigel's Countdown to Valkyrie (2008) contains numerous references to Rommel, who remained in France during the July events. Nigel, can you give us a synthesis of the General's involvement? Wasn't he primarily a "moral support" in the background of the plot?
An Appraisal of Rommel
(Nigel Jones, UK
02/18/18 4:11 AM)
As author of a study of the July Plot and other assassination attempts against Hitler, Countdown to Valkyrie (2008), may I contribute to the discussion on Rommel's qualities as a general?
I find myself midway between the positions of Cameron Sawyer (anti) and Istvan Simon (pro).
Cameron is certainly correct that Rommel was a brilliant tactician, as even his early study Infantrie Greift An based on his experiences as a junior officer on the Alpine front in WWI makes clear. Cameron is also right to point out that Rommel had no experience of commanding large armies on the Eastern Front.
I agree with Istvan, however, when he praises Rommel's performance in the Desert War, when, with numerically inferior forces, and starved of armour and fuel, he came very close to victory. Those same qualities of innovation and improvisation in making a little go a very long way, were demonstrated, as Istvan rightly says, in making the Normandy coastline such a well-defended terrain in a short time.
Curiously, neither Istvan nor Cameron makes much mention of Rommel's other claim to fame: the improvised crossing of the Meuse at Sedan in 1940 which was the key to unlocking the whole French defence system and thus eventually to the fall of France. Rommel's panzers spearheaded the thrust that split the Anglo-French forces in two and reached the Channel coast.
In addition, Rommel possessed the quality essential in any great commander: charisma. His ability to inspire confidence in his own troops, fear and awe in the enemy, and a glamorous image to the wider public. He was a master of modern PR techniques, and ably assisted by Goebbels's propaganda, his handsome features, and his trademark shades and scarf were regularly plastered across the papers and newsreels. This PR skill--shared with his rival Montgomery--was important in putting him streets ahead of less photogenic Generals in reputation who may have been more possessed of military skills alone.
So, a great general as Istvan claims? Very possibly so. But a great man, as he also asserts? In my view not. Rommel, though not a Nazi like Reichenau, Model or Schorner, was a strong supporter of National Socialism until quite late in the day. He was not, as Istvan states, a member of the anti-Nazi military conspiracy that culminated in the July 1944 bomb plot. Instead, he was persuaded by his own observations and by his Chief of Staff in Normandy, Hans Spiedel (who was a conspirator) that the war was lost, and for this reason pleaded with Hitler to seek peace terms. It was this "defeatism" which--coinciding with Stauffenberg's bomb plot--led to his murder.
Rommel was, of course, off the scene recovering from wounds suffered when his car was strafed from the air when the Valkyrie conspiracy reached its climax on July 20. In my opinion, his loyalty to the regime on that day would have trumped his judgement that the war was lost.
In my view Germany's greatest WWII General in purely military terms was Erich Von Manstein, architect of Operation Sichelschnitt/ Fall Gelb, the brilliant campaign that destroyed France in 1940 and a worker of military miracles on the Eastern Front. His opposition to Hitler's military meddling and disastrous tactics in Russia led to his dismissal.
Neither Manstein nor Rommel, schooled in the Prussian tradition of mindless obedience to orders, opposed Hitler and Nazi crimes on political or moral grounds. As Manstein himself said in justifying his refusal to join the Military conspiracy: "Generals don't mutiny."
JE comments: Thank you, Nigel! So if I understand correctly, the "Rommel Myth" embraced by the Allies after the war was largely a continuation of Goebbels's groundwork. A quick follow-up question: how was Rommel's death/suicide portrayed in the German media?
- An Appraisal of Rommel (Nigel Jones, UK 02/18/18 4:11 AM)
- Rommel and the July Plot: A Question for Nigel Jones (John Heelan, UK 02/17/18 8:30 AM)